using the scra military clause to terminate your lease

For those who’ve followed me for some time, you likely saw that we have lived in two different places in our year(ish) of Ryan’s duty assignment here at JBLM. We originally rented off post, and we were lucky to use the SCRA military clause to break our lease when Ryan deployed in late January. Before Ryan left, we did a lot of research about using the SCRA military clause, but a lot of it was tricky and contradictory. In fact, the procedure wasn’t cut and dried, either. We heard different things from different attorneys. So, it’s my hope to break things down, clear up some misconceptions, and share how one goes about using the SCRA military clause to terminate your lease.

What is the SCRA military clause?

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was enacted in 2003 to provide active-duty servicemembers and their family with certain legal protections, many pertaining to housing and lease/rental contracts. In a nutshell, the SCRA allows you to terminate your lease agreements without penalty based on military service, though it does have a series of prerequisites.

Who is eligible to use the SCRA?

The SCRA covers and protects all active duty servicemembers, reservists and members of the National Guard that remain on active duty. Protection under the SCRA begins the date service men and women enter active duty and is effectively terminated 30 to 90 days after discharge from active duty.

How do I use the SCRA to terminate my lease?

So, you’re eligible to use the SCRA! That’s great…but how do you use it? I was clueless when we started researching, but it’s actually simpler than you might think. Here are the main provisions:

  • To terminate your lease using the SCRA, a written notice needs to be delivered to your landlord. It cannot be a verbal notification. To terminate your lease, servicemembers must have orders for a PCS or deployment longer than 90 days.
  • For year-long leases, termination via the SCRA clause becomes effective on the final day of the month following the month you notified your landlord. It sounds more confusing than it is. For example, we sent our SCRA letter notifying our landlords on February 24. Our lease was, therefore, terminated on March 31st – the month after we notified our landlords. In the case of month to month rentals, termination is effective 30 days after the first date your next rental payment is due…after your landlord has been notified. So, if you notify them February 1st, you must pay March 1st, and your lease is terminated April 1st.
  • You must pay rent for those months before your lease is officially terminated. If you’ve prepaid your rent, your landlord needs to prorate and return anything not covered by the above. Furthermore, landlords are not entitled to retain your security deposit longer than necessary and, barring damages, have the state-mandated timeframe in which to return it to you.
  • You do not need to have an attorney, but I always recommend that you consult with JAG if you think you may need some backing. That’s what they’re there for; advice, counsel, and legal help.

The fine print about using the SCRA clause

PCSing is hard. Plain and simple – especially when families are moving across the country or OCONUS. It’s important to know the extra details about using the SCRA to prevent further headaches, so here are a few more things you may want to know:

  • The SCRA is a federal law, so state housing/leasing laws do not circumvent it
  • Many leases stipulate a “military clause,” but it’s important to know that SCRA eligibility remains valid, regardless of a landlord’s own “military clause”
  • The servicemember’s name must be on the lease to be fully covered under the federal blanket of the law; in our case, for example, both Ryan and I were on the lease, and I had power of attorney to execute decisions on his behalf
  • In competitive housing markets, tenants can choose to waive their SCRA rights, though this must be signed and notarized

While this all sounds incredibly tricky and taxing, I assure you, it’s not as scary as it looks or sounds. The biggest issue one might have is a so-called “gray area” in deployment orders. In our case, Ryan’s deployment isn’t a combat tour and, though it is a deployment, it’s also considered a “rotation,” which leaves things a little bit hazy in terms of the letter of the law. There is nothing in the SCRA that says it must be a combat tour so, until the law changes, a tour or change of station of no less than 90 days does qualify. That being said, this is exactly why Ryan and I received two different sets of advice from two different individuals – and also why I refused to take no for an answer 😉

I highly recommend taking your lease to JAG and Legal Assistance to ensure that you’re covered under the SCRA clause, and employ their help as much as possible. It’s free legal help for servicemembers and their families, so you have nothing to lose. Our legal representative drafted and signed our termination letter, which we sent with a copy of Ryan’s deployment orders via certified mail. By doing so, we legally covered our behinds, and we ensured receipt by our landlords.

When in doubt, do your due diligence, but rest assured – the SCRA clause is a lifesaver when you’re in a crunch and hope get out of your lease.