SERVICE MEMBERS AND THE LEASE
Whether you are property manager for a small duplex, or a property manager for an 800 unit high-rise apartment community, you can expect to field questions from service-members and their family members or dependents in regard to their lease obligations. These once obscure questions are becoming more commonplace, especially as our military deploys soldiers where there is conflict or where natural disasters have occurred. The military is also educating like never before our service-members or their dependents or family members concerning their legal rights as lease signers. There are also numerous, not for profit military advocacy groups which are disseminating legal information to the rank and file of the military who are renters of residential property. Nobody should argue that this is a bad development. In fact, we want our service-members to be protected while renting their homes or apartments. They are under enough stress as it is, and we do not want them distracted while they are in the military, or penalized after leaving the military after serving their country. However, you as a property manager should also be well versed in the law, so you can intelligently discuss the options your military residents have in regard to releasing them from their leases due to their military service. This article will provide legal advice on how to effectively deal with a number of common scenarios involving service-members who wish to terminate their leases. If you decide you do not want the hassle of renting to service-members, be advised that Florida law specifically prohibits you from discriminating against service-members, so you will be opening up your company to potentially significant liability under an unlawful discrimination suit!
Service-members Civil Relief Act “SCRA”
The Service-members’ Civil Relief Act, also known as “SCRA”, is a federal law which affords United States military personnel a number of protections in civil lawsuits. Some of these protections allow service-members or their family members, or dependents in some cases, to delay or suspend civil liabilities, as well as providing a mechanism for terminating leases, including residential leases. Our March-2010 Newsletter contains information concerning service-members and evictions and can be reviewed under the following link: http://evict.com/?page=legnew1003#milres. That article contains a more detailed history of the SCRA and should be read carefully, especially since a property manager could be subject to criminal liability if the eviction provisions of the statute are not followed. SCRA covers all persons on active duty with the uniformed services, including Reserve and National Guard members who are activated to federal active duty. SCRA does not apply to Reserve or National Guard members not on active duty, retired military personnel or troops called to duty under state orders.
Application of SCRA
Three of your residents have requested that you release them from their respective lease obligations. Samantha signed a lease three months ago. Two weeks ago she joined the Army. Her commanding officer has called you to verify this, even though you have not received anything in writing from the resident regarding her military service. Darren has provided you in writing his permanent change of station orders along with a written termination notice pursuant to SCRA. He delivered them in person to you. Larry was an Army reservist who was deployed to Iraq for 75 days and mailed his termination notice and orders to you by certified mail return receipt requested. Which of these residents are allowed to terminate their leases? In Samantha’s case, she is obligated to deliver to the manager, either in person or by certified mail return receipt requested, a written termination notice stating that it is pursuant to SCRA, along with a copy of her military orders. Oral notice is not sufficient. Therefore, Samantha has not yet successfully terminated her lease obligations based upon her oral notice. Darren will be permitted to terminate his lease, because he provided proper notice, and SCRA covers active duty service-members who receive permanent change of station orders. Larry is not covered by SCRA. Even though he provided written notice, SCRA covers service-members deployed for 90 days or more. That leaves Larry 15 days short under federal law. However, as you will see, Florida law may allow Larry to terminate his lease. Any advance rent or security deposit must also be returned to Darren in conjunction with the early lease termination assuming that rent is current and there are no damages to the premises in excess of reasonable wear and tear. You are also prohibited from holding Darren responsible for the lease balance, or charging Darren any early lease termination liquidated damage amounts if the resident chose that option at lease signing. It is also important to note that the service-member must be a lease holder for these protections to apply. For example, a wife of a service-member who is deployed cannot terminate the lease if the service-member is not listed as a party to the lease. However, you should also keep in mind though the wife would still enjoy certain eviction stay protections under SCRA, so it would still make sense to try and shorten her lease term if you think that payment of the rent will become an issue due to the husband’s deployment.
Calculating the Lease Termination Dates Under SCRA
For all tenancies under which rent is due monthly, the lease will terminate 30 days after the first date on which the next rent payment is due after the lease termination notice is delivered. So, if the rent is due on the first of the month and the notice is delivered to you in person on July 3, the lease obligations will terminate August 30. For any other tenancy, the lease will terminate on the last day of the month after the month in which the correct notice is provided. Therefore, if rent is due quarterly (a rare tenancy to be sure), and notice was given on July 3, the lease termination date will be August 31.
Florida Statute’s Treatment of Lease Termination Rights by Service-members
Bernice, one of your residents, has just emailed you. She is going to provide you with written orders from the Navy along with a 30-day notice that she intends to terminate the lease. Bernice was on active duty when she signed the lease; however, she is no longer on active duty and plans to relocate to a city 41 miles away which is where Bernice lived just prior to her naval active duty. There is five months left on the term of Bernice’s lease. Meanwhile, Vic has received permanent change of station orders to move 33 miles from your apartment community. Finally, Michael was released from active military duty due to conduct issues. Michael and Vic would both like to vacate in 30 days, even though both have many months left on their respective leases. Can these residents terminate their leases you wonder? In addition to the federal law protections that military members receive from SCRA, the Florida legislature enacted state law mandated legal protection for service-members attempting to terminate their residential rental agreements. These provisions are contained in Florida Statute 83.682 - TERMINATION OF RENTAL AGREEMENT BY A SERVICE-MEMBER. First, each and every time a resident invokes termination rights pursuant to this statute; at least 30 days’ written notice must be provided to the manager and must be accompanied by either a copy of the official military orders or written verification signed by the service-member’s commanding officer. Bernice will be allowed to terminate her lease, because a service-member released from active duty or state active duty after having leased the premises while on active duty or state active duty status is eligible for lease termination rights when the rental premises is 35 miles or more from the service-member’s home of record prior to entering active duty or state active duty. Michael also will be able to terminate his lease early under chapter 83.682, because the protection applies to a service-member who is prematurely or involuntarily discharged or released from active duty or state active duty. Vic may not be as fortunate, as the protection under Florida law requires the change of station orders to be 35 miles or more from the location of the rental premises. However, Vic is still protected under SCRA, because the federal law does not impose a geographical limit for permanent change of station orders. Service-members are also covered under the Florida Statute if the service-member has leased the property, but prior to taking possession of the rental premises, receives a change of orders to an area that is 35 miles or more from the location of the rental premises. You should also be aware that Florida Statute covers a service-member who after entering into a rental agreement, receives military orders requiring him to move into governmental quarters, or the service-member becomes eligible to live in and opts to move into governmental quarters. The Florida Statute also covers service-members who receive temporary duty orders, temporary change of station orders, or state active duty orders to an area 35 miles or more from the location of the rental premises, provided such orders are for a period exceeding 60 days. If the service-member is eligible to break the lease under Florida law, the resident’s rental obligations run for thirty straight days from the time formal notice is provided.
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