What Is a Military Clause?
A military clause is a provision included in most residential leases which permits military personnel a method of breaking a lease agreement. The clause allows military personnel who are called to duty or must relocate due to connected service activity the ability to have security deposits returned and to leave a lease contract before the end of its term.
This provision eliminates the fear of separating families during duty-ordered relocations. It also provides a system where the orders do not financially impact military personnel with the loss of deposits. The military clause is only available to active-duty military, National Guard, and reservist members. However, not all rental agreements will include a military clause and each state varies in its support of the clause.
- A military clause provides active military personnel who have put money down for a lease or mortgage and are called to duty or must relocate, a way to get back their security deposit
- States vary in their support of the clause
- The military clause is different from the Servicemembers Civil Service Relief Act (SCRA)
The Basics of a Military Clause
Military personnel may invoke the clause if they experience a permanent change of station (PCS). To do so, the active duty member will need to present a copy of their official orders to the landlord if they want to break a written lease which still has time remaining. They will also need to give a written and signed notice of their intention to vacate the property which contains all current contact information for the service member and their Commanding Officer. Further, the letter should include a date of final residency and a request for the return of any paid security deposits. As with all documents of this nature, it is best to make and keep copies before sending the documents via certified mail with a request for a signed delivery receipt.
The military clause is a benefit available to members of the U.S. military, the Reserves, and the National Guard. This clause is a typical element of leases in areas surrounding military bases but is not a mandatory inclusion in the contract. By including the provision, landlords may reduce their vacancies by accommodating military tenants, but may also find themselves in financial hardship if tenants need to break a lease.
After giving a copy of the orders to the landlord, the last day of the lease will be the final day of the month following the month in which the landlord received the documents. As an example, if the tenant gave their notification to the landlord in January, the lease would end on the last day of February. Payment of rent will extend through the last day of February.
Not all rental agreements will include a military clause. It is essential to read and understand the full rental document. Also, some clauses will include a limitation as to the distance the change of station must be before the provision is in effect. Another caution is that any state law will supersede the military clause in cases of conflict. Further, the military clause may apply to both residential and business rental properties.
Military Clause and the SCRA
The military clause is similar to portions of the Servicemembers Civil Service Relief Act (SCRA). The Act passed in 1940 and is a federal law that protects those in the military from being taken advantage of or losing property while on active duty. This Act protects against vehicle repossession, the loss of belongings in storage facilities, foreclosures, pending court cases, credit card debts, and many other penalties which can beset transitioning service members. SCRA is effective for both PCS and for deployment of more than 90 days.
If a service member is not able to break a lease, or the landlord does not want to honor SCRA, the best course of action is to talk to the nearest Legal Assistance Program Office. The information on office location is available through the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Real World Example
For example, if Private River Johnson signed a lease with a landlord for a term of one year, it might include language stating if the tenant breaks the lease, they will forfeit the security deposit. However, if the rental contract contains a military clause, Pvt. Johnson would still be able to receive their security deposit if they are forced to break the lease due to a PCS.
Also, other agreements may include military clauses. Such as was reported by ABC News in 2014. The military clause was to be included in the agreement for a home security system. However, when several families later tried to cancel their agreement they were hit with cancellation and other fees, costing them over $2,000.
The military clause typically states something similar to the following but may vary by contract and by the state of property location.
IN THE EVENT the Tenant is, or hereafter becomes, a member of the United States Armed Forces on extended active duty and hereafter the Tenant receives permanent change of station orders to depart from the area where the Premises are located, or is relieved from active duty, retires or separates from the military, or is ordered into military housing, then in any of these events, the Tenant may terminate this lease upon giving thirty (30) days written notice to the Landlord. The Tenant shall also provide to the Landlord a copy of the official orders or a letter signed by the tenant's commanding officer, reflecting the change, which warrants termination under this clause. The Tenant will pay prorated rent for any days (he/she) occupy the dwelling past the first day of the month. The damage/security deposit will be promptly returned to the tenant, provided there are no damages to the premises.