Legal Research

Special Rules for Rental Applications for Members of the Armed Forces

Military members are afforded certain protections and benefits while in active duty, including protections relating to housing and accommodations. For this reason, landlords need to be aware of the laws that can affect the landlord’s relationship with its military tenants. In 2003, the United States Congress enacted the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) to revise and expand the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940.[1] The SCRA provides legal protections for active military members to enable them to focus on the defense of the nation.[2] The SCRA includes protections relating to rental agreements, evictions, security deposits, and prepaid rent, among other topics.[3]

First, landlords must know who is covered by the SCRA. The SCRA covers (1) full-time active-duty members of the United States military; (2) reservists called to federal active duty; (3) National Guard members who are called to service for a period of more than thirty (30) days; and (4) servicemembers absent from duty because of “sickness, wounds, leave, or other lawful cause.”[4] In addition, “[c]ommissioned officers in active service of the Public Health Service (PHS) or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are also covered by the SCRA.”[5] Second, landlords need to know what actions are affected by this act. The SCRA provides protections for the termination of leases and protection from eviction.[6]

Under the SCRA, servicemembers may terminate a residential lease and other leases for premises intended to be occupied by the service member or his or her dependents.[7] For this section to apply, the lease must have been executed by (1) a lessee who later enters military service, or (2) a servicemember who later receives an order for permanent change of station or deployment for a period of not less than ninety (90) days.[8] To terminate a lease, the servicemember must deliver a written notice and a copy of his military order(s) to the landlord.[9]  The termination becomes effective thirty (30) days after the date when the next payment of rent is due.[10]

The SCRA also protects servicemembers from evictions during active military service under certain circumstances. A landlord cannot evict a servicemember or the servicemember’s dependents unless the landlord obtains a court order.[11] To qualify for this protection, the premises involved must be occupied primarily as the servicemember’s residence.[12] Additionally, the monthly rent for the premises involved must not exceed a certain amount.[13]

In addition to federal law, state law may also provide servicemembers with some protections and benefits, but these may vary by state. In 2016, Florida passed a bill that imposes new duties on landlords when dealing with a rental application by a servicemember.[14] If a landlord requires a prospective tenant to fill out an application, the landlord must process such application within seven (7) days of submission.[15] Next, within the same seven (7) day period, the landlord must notify the servicemember in writing if the application was approved or denied.[16] If the application was denied, the landlord must include the reason for denial in the notification.[17] The statutes goes a step further by providing that the landlord must approve the rental application of the servicemember if (1) the landlord fails to provide a timely denial, and (2) all other application requirements are met.[18]

Like the SCRA, Florida allows a service member to terminate a rental agreement if certain conditions are met. To terminate the lease, a service member must provide written notice to the landlord and a copy of his military order(s).[19] The statute also provides a list of circumstances in which a servicemember may terminate the lease.[20] For example, if the servicemember must move thirty-five (35) miles or more away from the location of the premises, the servicemember is prematurely discharged or released from active duty, among others.[21] If a service member dies during active duty, an immediate family member is allowed to terminate the lease by providing written notice accompanied by a copy of the military order(s) and a copy of the servicemember’s death certificate.[22] The service member is still liable for the rent due under the lease “prorated to the effective date of the termination.”[23]

This article highlights how military tenants are afforded more protection than the average tenant under both federal law and state law. These protections can affect the landlord’s responsibilities and the rental process. Landlords must be aware of their responsibilities when dealing with military tenants or prospective military tenants under the both state and federal law. Furthermore, landlords must know their rights and to what extent these rights may be affected. For example, as mentioned above, a landlord’s right to deny a rental application can be waived for delay. Finally, it is important to note that not all military members qualify for some of these protections since the protections afforded depend on several qualifying factors including the rental amount and the member’s military status, among others.

 

References:

[1] THE SERVICEMEMBERS CIVIL RELIEF ACT (SCRA), U.S. Dep’t Just., https://www.justice.gov/servicemembers/servicemembers-civil-relief-act-scra (last visited Sept. 27, 2020) [hereinafter SCRA]; Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Pub. L. No. 108-189, 117 Stat. 2835 (2003). [2] SCRA, supra note 1; Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Pub. L. No. 108-189, § 2, 117 Stat. 2835, 2836 (2003). [3] SCRA, supra note 1. [4] Id.; Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Pub. L. No. 108-189, § 101, 117 Stat. 2835, 2836 (2003); The United States military is composed of five branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. [5] SCRA, supra note 1. [6] Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, §§ 305, 301, 117 Stat. at 2845, 2848. [7] Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, §305, 117 Stat. at 2848. In addition to residential leases, the provision covers business, professional, agricultural, and other leases for a similar purpose. [8] Id. [9] Id. § 305(c)(A), 117 Stat. at 2849.  [10] Id. § 305(d)(1), 117 Stat. at 2849.  [11] Id. §305, 117 Stat. at 2845. [12] Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, §305(a)(1)(A)(i), 117 Stat. at 2845. [13] Id. §305(a)(1)(A)(ii), 117 Stat. at 2845; SCRA Rental and Eviction Protection, Mil. (Apr. 4, 2020), https://www.military.com/benefits/military-legal-matters/scra-rental-and-eviction-protection.html#:~:text=Evictions,before%20you%20joined%20the%20military (“If you rent a house or apartment and the rent doesn’t exceed $3,991.90 per month (for 2020), the landlord must obtain a court order before evicting you or your family.”); see 85 Fed. Reg.4,296 (Jan. 24, 2020)   [14] Fla. Stat. §83.683 (2016). Under § 83.683(2), the same requirements apply to condominium associations, cooperative associations, and homeowners’ associations. [15] Id. § 83.683(1).  [16] Id.  [17] Id. [18] Id.  [19] Fla. Stat. § 83.682(1) (2020). [20] Id. [21] Id. § 83.682 (1)(a)-(b). [22] Id. § 83.682(3). [23] Id. § 83.682(4).

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