By Yosefi Seltzer, Legal Assistance Attorney
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the legal protections for service members and spouses who are forced to move due to military assignment orders and must terminate their residential leases early. See Part 1.
Some neighboring states like Virginia and Pennsylvania have enacted protections to enable service members and spouses to early-terminate their leases.
Maryland has not yet created the same additional protections for service members and their spouses.
As it happens, the Maryland legislature is currently considering legislation that would provide service members and spouses additional early-termination grounds.
Senate Bill 49 entitled: “Landlord and Tenant – Military Personnel – Limitation on Liability for Rent” (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2017RS/bills/sb/sb0049F.pdf) (hereafter: “SB49”) is an attempt to allow early-termination of residential leases when:
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.
SB49 would also extend the same early-termination protections to spouses if they are relying upon their service member’s orders.
Each of these additional protections 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.
‘Military-Friendly’ Lease Provisions
When service members are retiring or released from active duty, forcing them to remain in the lease is an undue burden when they may need to relocate because they are either disabled veterans who need care, may wish to enroll in a university using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, or accept employment elsewhere.
Service members also may have difficulties paying the rent if they are involuntarily released from active duty: The military is 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.
In addition, service members or spouses may sign leases, but before occupying the premises, their orders are changed, forcing them to report to a different geographic duty location, 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 anyway.
The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act does not provide explicit lease termination protections in cases of discharge or separation from active duty.
Because leases and their interpretation are inherently legal matters best addressed at the state level, Maryland could avoid ambiguity by adding these protections to the statute.
If Maryland enacts SB49, it will be adopting similar “military-friendly” lease provisions that Virginia and Pennsylvania previously enacted. This will make Maryland rental properties more attractive to service members who can choose where to lease premises.
Consequently, SB49 could ease the concerns of military families who must cope with constantly changing military orders.
To discuss your personal legal questions, call the Legal Assistance Office to schedule an appointment at 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536.
To discuss SB49 with your Maryland legislators, visit http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmmain.aspx?pid= legisrpage&tab=subject.