Life is uncertain when you are serving your country. As much as you try to maintain a sense of normalcy for yourself and your family, things can change at any time. You could receive a PCS or be deployed with a moment’s notice and have to pack up and move and possibly uproot your family. But what if you’ve just signed a one-year lease for an apartment? Will you lose your deposit for breaking the lease? You shouldn’t—thanks to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)—but you have to be aware of your rights, because the landlord probably isn’t!
What SCRA Allows
As a Marine myself, I understand the sacrifices our military men and women make every day. Even in peacetime, life in the military can be hard and servicemembers are often taken advantage of because they have to move around so much. But the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and consumer lawyers like me are here to protect you from being screwed by debt collectors, lenders, landlords, and car dealers. Under SCRA, active duty military have the right to terminate a residential lease if they are required to move or are deployed. They may also be able to terminate an auto lease without penalty under similar circumstances. Here’s how it works.
Terminating a Residential Lease
Just when you thought you were settled enough in one spot to commit to a one-year lease, you get Permanent Change of Station or deployment orders. If you are going to be gone for at least 90 days, you should be able to get out of your lease with no penalties. Here are the details:
- The property must be occupied by you, the servicemember, or your dependents.
- If you signed the lease prior to serving on active duty or you’re already serving and received orders, you should be eligible.
- You—or someone with power of attorney—will have to submit notice to the landlord with a copy of your orders.
- Termination of the lease should then be effective 30 days after the first date on which the next rent payment is due.
Just because you have a right to terminate your lease as an active-duty servicemember doesn’t mean your landlord is aware of that right. If you have any difficulty getting your landlord to cooperate, give me a call.
Termination of a New Car Lease
While this is a more limited right than the right to terminate a residential lease, it could prove very useful to you in certain situations. The important thing to know is that you cannot terminate a new car lease if you are being moved from one location within the continental United States to another. However, if the following are true, you may be able to cancel the contract:
- You signed the lease before entering active duty and will be serving on active duty for 180 days or longer.
- You signed the lease during active duty and then received orders to move overseas or outside the continental United States or are being deployed in a military operation for more than 180 days.
If you are already in the service or are planning to join, be sure you understand the terms of the new car lease you are signing. Since you can’t cancel a lease without penalty if you are moved from one state to another, be sure the lease allows you to take your car out of state before you agree to the terms.
Confused and Stressed Out?
If you’ve just received PCOS or deployment orders, you have a lot to deal with right now. Arguing with a landlord or car dealership about whether you can cancel a lease is probably not at the top of your list. Contact me if you have hit a roadblock. I will make sure your SCRA rights are protected so that you can continue to serve our country with pride.