It’s relatively common for service members to be called to active duty or receive Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders while renting their home. Of course, this can be tricky, because your timeline probably doesn’t account for your lease agreement, meaning you’ll need to break your lease.
Fortunately, breaking a lease with military orders is allowable by law, and you shouldn’t face any financial consequences for doing so such as paying a penalty. Here’s what you need to know to make sure everything goes smoothly.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a wide-ranging law designed to protect active-duty members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. The law covers many aspects of a service member’s financial life, including mortgages, life insurance, debt, leases and more.
When it comes to rental homes and leases, here are the basics:
SCRA lease rules are very specific, but they make it possible for military personnel to move when they need to without financial penalty.
Under SCRA lease rules, you must be qualified to break your lease. The law applies to the following categories of service members:
Once you have determined that you qualify, you’ll need to follow these steps to break your lease without penalty:
Note that if you entered your lease after entering active duty, you may still be able to break your lease if you have PCS orders or are being deployed more than 90 days. Just follow steps 3 and 4 above for providing notice.
When you follow these SCRA steps, your lease should end 30 days after your next rent payment due date.
Though the SCRA is designed to protect members of the military from incurring penalties and fees associated with breaking a lease, you may have an easier time — and significant peace of mind — if your lease includes a military clause. With a military clause, breaking an apartment lease can be further streamlined.
Military clauses in rental agreements are fairly common in areas near bases, and they provide additional protection. Depending on the wording of the clause, you may be able to break your lease with less hassle or less notice if you are deployed or relocated.
You can check your lease to see if you have a military clause by reading over the wording carefully and checking for language about early lease termination for military service members. If you don’t see this language, it’s a good idea to ask for this clause to be added to your current lease or to any future lease you enter. Military clauses can help both you and the landlord streamline the process of ending your lease if you get orders requiring you to move.
It’s important to check any lease you sign for language that asks you to waive your SCRA rights. If you waive these rights, you will no longer be protected by the SCRA rules and could be on the hook for penalties for breaking your lease early. If you see waiver language in your lease, ask your landlord to update the lease without the waiver language so you remain protected.
If you’re uncertain about what the language of your lease means, check with your nearest legal advocate for help. They will be able to decipher the wording and offer advice to make sure you remain protected in your rental agreements.
Even if you follow all of the steps required by the SCRA to break your lease, some landlords may ask you to verify your PCS orders. This is their right, and they often do it to prevent fraudulent claims and abuse of the system. To make sure your landlord has everything they need, provide the following:
Your landlord will want to see that your orders are provided on official letterhead and include a contact number they can call to verify your deployment or PCS orders.
Even with the law on your side, writing a letter of intent to break your lease can be stressful, especially if you’ve never done it before.. Follow these tips to make sure your letter of intent covers all the bases:
Remember, your notice to vacate and a copy of your orders will ideally be delivered by hand. If you want to mail it, use certified mail or a carrier like UPS or FedEx that verifies when the paperwork is received.
If all of this is enough to make you want to quit renting forever, we hear you! When you’re ready to buy a home of your own, we’re here to help.