New law expands protections for early termination of residential leases

All Things Legal

Gov. Larry Hogan (front row, center between two Maryland officials) signs into law new protections for service members and their spouses who seek to early-terminate residential leases. Shaking Hogan’s hand is Yosefi Seltzer (back row, second from right), a Fort Meade Legal Assistance attorney who submitted written and oral testimony. (Photo courtesy Joe Andrucyk)

By Yosefi Seltzer, Legal Assistance Attorney

On May 25, Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law additional protections for service members and their spouses who seek to early-terminate residential leases.

The new protections, which become effective on Oct. 1, will now allow early termination of residential leases under the following circumstances:

  • The service-member is ordered to reside in housing or quarters located on a military installation.
  • The service-member is released from active-duty orders through retirement, separation or discharge under honorable conditions.
  • Demobilization of activated Reservists or National Guardsmen who were serving on active-duty orders of 180 or more consecutive days

The new law also extends the same early termination protections to spouses if they are relying upon the service member’s orders.

Routinely, service members and their spouses sign residential leases when arriving at a new duty station with the expectation that they will be able to remain there for the duration of their military orders, which typically are two, three or more years in length.

All too often, military orders are changed prematurely: service members are ordered to deploy, are medically retired or are sent to a temporary duty assignment for several months.

In some cases, existing federal and Maryland law permit the military service member and spouse to early-terminate the lease with only 30 days notice and liability. But until now, Maryland’s early termination grounds were strictly limited.

Under the new law, each of these additional protections are expected to benefit military families. Routinely, commanders order Soldiers to move into the barracks or military quarters so they can monitor them more closely or to remove them from a dangerous domestic situation.

When the service member is retiring or released from active duty, forcing them to remain in the lease is an undue burden when they may need to relocate because the Soldier is now a disabled veteran who needs caregiving, may wish to enroll in college or university using the Post 9/11 GI Bill or to accept employment elsewhere.

Service members also may have difficulties paying the rent if they are involuntarily released from active duty. The military is currently downsizing and many service members are being discharged despite their desire to remain on active duty. This could result in a situation where they are stuck with a lease they cannot afford because they are suddenly unemployed.

Sometimes, service members or spouses sign leases and before occupying the premises, their orders are changed, forcing them to report to a different geographic duty location or service school, or to deploy overseas or serve at sea.

In those last-minute cases, service members and their spouses may no longer need rental housing in Maryland, but they may be trapped in their leases.

With the passage of the new legal protections, Maryland has now adopted similar “military-friendly” lease provisions that Virginia and Pennsylvania previously enacted. Consequently, the new legal protections for service members and their spouses should ease the concerns they face when they must cope with constantly changing military orders. That is because Maryland law will now permit them to early-terminate their residential leases under a wider variety of grounds.

To discuss your personal legal questions, call the Legal Assistance Office at 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536 to schedule an appointment.

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