Some states permit early lease termination to service members

By Yosefi Seltzer, Legal Assistance Attorney

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 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.

Military service members and their families routinely 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.

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 service member and spouse to early-terminate the lease with only 30 days notice and liability. But in many other cases, the new military orders may not authorize the service member and spouse to be relieved of the rent liability in Maryland.

Basic protections for service members and their spouses currently exist in the federal Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (50 USCS Section 3955) and the corresponding Maryland Code Real Property Article Section 8-212.1.

The SCRA permits service members and spouses to early-terminate a residential lease if, after executing the lease, the service member enters military service or receives military orders for a permanent change-of-duty station military reassignment or to deploy for a period of no less than 90 days.

Renter’s Responsibilities

To terminate the lease in accordance with this provision, the service member or spouse must deliver written notice and a copy of the military orders to the landlord or property manager. Liability for rent would be 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due after notice is delivered.

Similarly, the Maryland Real Property Article Section 8-212.1 currently permits a service member (not a spouse) who is on active duty with the United States military but subsequently receives PCS orders or temporary duty orders for a period of 90 or more days to early-terminate the lease.

In addition, the service member is only responsible for rent for 30 days after written notice and proof of the assignment is provided to the landlord.

Under both the federal and Maryland early-termination provisions, tenants would still be responsible to the landlord for unpaid rent arrearages as well as damage they caused to the premises during the tenancy.

The problem is, current federal and Maryland law are insufficient to protect service members and their spouses due to the wide variety of military orders issued nowadays. Service members can be medically retired, separated or retire from active duty, be ordered to move into housing provided on a military installation — or in the case of the National Guard or Reserves, be released from active duty — before the military orders are completed.

In these cases, existing federal and Maryland law may not permit an early termination of the residential lease.

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

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