Renter's Rights

Your Legal Protections as a Military Renter


Moving is a fact of military life, even if changes in recent years have reduced just how often it occurs. Permanent changes of station (PCS) still happen, however, and sometimes with little or nor warning. Then there are non-military issues with housing, such as when a landlord has his or her property foreclosed upon (something that has happened with more frequency in the past several years).

Thankfully, there is a pair of federal laws that can protect military members and their families in these situations. (Note that this blog is informational and should not be substituted for professional legal advice. Military One Source has more information about the Armed Forces legal assistance program.)

Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

The SCRA provides a number of financial protections, including one that states you can back out of a lease if you have an unexpected PCS or deployment that will last for more than 90 days. In these cases, you can exit the contract with no penalty. You can also do so if you’re a member of the National Guard or reserves and are called up to active duty status.

Keep in mind, however, that the key part is “unexpected.” If you know before you sign a lease that you won’t be able to honor it, then the SCRA will not protect you. For example, if you know you’ll be somewhere for just six months, yet sign a 12-month lease, you will be out of luck.

In those situations, legal experts suggest that you either sign a lease just for the length of time you’ll be there, or make sure the lease has a clause that lets you out of the contract early due to your military duties, or allows you to sub-lease your place for the remainder of the time.

Another protection under the SCRA delays eviction for nonpayment of rent for up to 90 days—but only if military service has “materially affected” the military member’s ability to pay that rent, and if the rent is less than a certain amount (approximately $2,600 a month). Take these two examples:

  • You sign a lease while on active duty. During this time, your pay does not decrease in any significant way, nor has your service changed your ability to pay. In this case, you can be evicted in the same manner as a civilian.
  • You are in the National Guard, but not on active duty, and sign a lease. During the lease term you are called to active duty and, thus, see your monthly take home pay decrease. In this case, if the judge decides your service did materially affect your payments, he or she can delay those eviction proceedings for up to three months.

Note that you will still owe back rent in both of these situations! The SCRA doesn’t allow you to skip out on your financial obligations. It just gives you a bit more time to take care of them when your military service has made it hard to meet those obligations. Also note that the landlord must inform the court of your military service during eviction proceedings. (This is one reason you will want to ensure your landlord knows you are in the military before signing any rental agreement.)

For more information about what the SCRA covers when it comes to housing, visit the Housing and Urban Development website.

Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009

This law was designed to help renters by providing certain protections when the house they are in is foreclosed on. Basically, the law says that renters have the right to stay in a foreclosed home until their lease expires, unless the new owner will be moving in, or the renter has a month-to-month lease. Even in those cases, however, the renter gets 90 days before having to vacate.

There are two things to note:

  • Some states have laws that take this even farther, so be sure to discuss any issues with your local legal assistance office.
  • The law is currently set to expire Dec. 31, 2014, unless Congress renews it before then.

Once again, any questions you have concerning these laws (or any others!) should be directed to your local legal affairs office. After all, these laws were put into place to help military families and renters like you, so be sure to take advantage of them when or if necessary.

Mark Dye

About the author: Mark Dye

Mark Dye has been writing articles, recording podcasts, and putting together books on personal finance for nearly a decade. His work has been recognized by the American Bankers Association and the Institute for Financial Literacy, and received an 2011 APEX Grand Award for Writing. Follow Mark on Google+.

Contact: Mark Dye


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