Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: Giving Notice To Terminate A Lease

One area of frustration for landlord and military tenants alike is that the requirements to terminate a lease don't always jive with the reality of military life.  This is true when using the protections of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to terminate the lease early, or when terminating the lease using the regular provisions of the lease.  I've gathered a few old letters that demonstrate some of the challenges, and how you should handle them.

Dear Kate,

I just got hard copy orders to move - next month.  I immediately called my landlord, who says that I owe rent through the end of the month.  I let her know as soon as I got orders.  Why do I owe rent for the whole month when I'm leaving at the beginning?

Jon

Jon doesn't give me all the information available, so I've made a few assumptions.

Dear Jon,

There are two ways you can break a lease:  through appropriate notice as required in your lease, or using the protections of the SCRA.  I am going to assume that you are breaking the lease using SCRA rules, and that your lease doesn't actually end at any time between now and the time you plan to move out.

If you are breaking the lease using SCRA, the law says that you may terminate the lease effective 30 days from the next scheduled rent due, by giving written notice and a copy of the relevant Permanent Change of Station (PCS) or deployment orders.  So, if you give proper written notice today, and your next rent is due on 1 July, you are responsible for rent through 30 July.  Even though July has 31 days, it is industry standard to calculate pro-rated rents based on 30 days, so you effectively owe all of July.

I hope that helps,

Kate

My next letter highlights the importance of always reading your lease and understanding what it says.

Dear Kate,

The lease on my apartment is up at the end of the month, and I am planning to move to a different place.  I mentioned that to one of the girls who works in the office, and she said that I couldn't do that because I didn't notify them in time.  Why would I have to notify them that I am moving when my lease is up?  Can they make me stay?

Shawna

Ugh.  So much more information needed here!

Dear Shawna,

That depends on what your lease says.  Almost all leases have a clause that requires you to state your intentions, typically 60 days prior to the end of the lease.  If your lease says this, you are required to give the office written notification of what you intend to do at the end of the lease.  Almost all leases also have language that explains what happens if you fail to give the required notice.  Most often, the lease changes to a month-to-month lease.  Sometimes, the lease renews for another year, or the lease just terminates.

No one can make you stay in the apartment, but you may be liable for whatever terms are set out in the lease.  Your lease may also spell out consequences if the unit is left empty.  On the upside, many states require landlords to look for replacement tenants and prohibit the landlord from collecting rent from two parties on the same property.

Ultimately, you will have to look to your lease for the answer to your question.  If, for some reason, your lease is not clear, then there are probably state laws that apply.  After reading your lease, I suggest you speak with whomever is in charge at your leasing office.  In some cases, you can work with the company to find the best solution for everyone involved.  This might include paying a break lease fee or finding a new tenant for the property.

Good luck!

Kate

Lastly, we have a question about giving notice.

Dear Kate,

We have a problem.  Our lease is up at the end of July.  My husband has verbal order for us to move in July, but we don't have hard-copy orders yet.  I don't want to tell my landlord that we're moving, and then have the orders be delayed, but I also want to make sure that we aren't paying for this house after we move.  What do I do?

Lindsey

This is a tougher question, because your landlord may be more flexible than the lease says, but you don't know until you ask.

Dear Lindsey,

There are a couple of issues here - your lease ending, and the possibility of breaking your lease using SCRA.  First, I would carefully read your lease and see what it says about giving notice at the end of the lease, what happens if you don't provide notice, and what happens if you don't vacate when required.

While the SCRA provides great protections for military members, it does not allow military members to just up and move whenever.  (And I'm glad, because no one would rent to the military if it did.)  You have to provide written notice, and the lease can not be terminated (under SCRA) sooner than 30 days after the next rent due after the written notification.

However, some landlords are more generous.  It is possible that your landlord would be fine with you terminating your lease with less notice.  Perhaps they are planning to sell, or have a sister who really wants to move in, or any other situation that we can't even imagine.

The other issue here is that your lease ends in July, but you don't know for sure that you are moving.  Depending on the terms of your lease, you may be required to move out of your house at the end of July regardless of whether you are moving or not.  Check your lease for the required notification from both parties - 60 days notice is common.  Depending on what your lease says, and what communication you have/have not received from your landlord, you may or may not have an issue here.

I would suggest that you communicate, in writing, with your landlord, and see how they respond.  This information, plus the information in your lease, will give you guidance, tell you how to proceed, and let you know what to expect.

Good luck!

Kate

You've probably noticed a common theme here:  read your lease, and talk to your landlord.  Your lease will tell you what is required, and your landlord can tell you if they are willing to deviate from the requirements in the lease.  Together you can figure out what to do next.

It can be frustrating when short-notice or changing military orders mean that you have to pay rent on a property after you've already left, or perhaps you have to move into a hotel or stay with friends for the last few weeks or months before you move.  While frustrating, it is part of military life.  Please be prepared for it!

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