The Ultimate Guide to Renter’s Rights Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

Written on October 17, 2014 by , updated on April 20, 2016

SCRAThe Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) protects those who serve their country by granting them special rights, such as the ability to break their rental leases, among other allowances.

Simply put, the SCRA serves our national security interests by assisting those who are called into active duty, so their personal lives, and the lives of their family members, do not fall apart while the servicemember is performing his/her duties.

Background

URLTAFor the most part, landlord-tenant law is a state-by-state affair, with legislatures setting the basic rules for such things as security deposits and evictions.

Many states follow the framework set by the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) of 1972, but even still, municipalities are allowed to pass local ordinances, such as rent control in Santa Monica and San Francisco, or the requirement in Miami, Florida that landlords must get a permit before hanging out their “For Rent” sign.

Since participation in the URLTA is voluntary, there are only a few federally mandated rules on housing, such as the federal lead disclosure requirement.

As Congress realized that our servicemembers were falling into debt, or unable to fulfill contracts because of their active duty requirements, the Government knew something had to be done. Thus, the federally enforced Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940 was passed. In 2003, it became the known as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Civil Protections

The SCRA helps servicemembers who are called to active duty, and their families, by allowing for the postponement or suspension of a range of civil obligations.

These protections go far beyond rental housing contracts:

  • Limiting interest on existing debt to 6 percent
  • Protection from foreclosure on existing mortgages
  • Postponement of pending trials
  • Reinstatement of private health insurance
  • Termination or suspension of mobile phone contracts
  • Termination of automobile lease agreements

For landlords across the United States, the law can affect their relationship with a tenant in several ways,

  • Termination of residential and business lease agreements
  • Protection from eviction
  • Protection from default judgments

Who is Protected?

First, before we get into the law’s protections, it’s helpful to understand who is eligible.

Military Service

airplaneThe law covers all active duty members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as reservists called up for military service, and National Guard ordered to active duty for more than 30 consecutive days.

Additionally, it also includes commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service.

Legally speaking, it covers all those on active duty who are paid under direct control of the federal government under Title 10 of the U.S. Code (pdf) and includes servicemembers stationed on military bases and naval vessels either in the United States or abroad.

Domestic Service

Hurricane KatrinaIn addition, the 2003 update to the 1940 law expanded coverage to include federally trained and paid members serving under Title 32 of the U.S. Code (pdf), when they are called up for more than 30 consecutive days to respond to a national emergency under the command of a state governor.

For example, National Guard members who were called to duty after September 11, 2001, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina served under Title 32 and were subject to the protection of the SCRA.

Lease Terminations

Under Title III of the SCRA, servicemembers who enlist or who are called up to active duty for longer than 180 days may terminate month-to-month and other residential and business lease agreements if they give at least a 30-day notice.

Written Notice

A servicemember who seeks to break a lease must provide the landlord or property manager written notice of the termination, along with a copy of his or her military orders. The notice may be delivered by hand, but if it is mailed, it must be sent with return receipt requested via the USPS.

Month-to-Month Leases

For month-to-month agreements, once the notice is sent, the lease is terminated 30 days following the next date that rent is due after the notice is delivered.

That means that if the tenant’s rent is due on the first of each month and the termination notice is sent on any date after August 1, the lease will terminate as of October 1.

All Other Leases

For all other leases, the termination is effective on the last day of the next month after the notice is received. For example, if notice is sent on June 25, the lease would terminate on July 31.

At that point, the landlord has 30 days to return any prepaid rent and security deposits, except to cover unpaid rent or the repair of any actual damages the tenant is liable for under the lease agreement.

Eviction Protection

Court StandThe law also allows courts to postpone eviction of a servicemember’s spouse, children or other dependents if military service affects the family’s ability to pay the rent.

The law does not prohibit evictions outright, nor does it release servicemembers and their families from their obligations to pay the rent that they owe. A landlord may still serve a termination notice if a servicemember or family member falls behind on rent, but the landlord is required to inform the court of the tenant’s active duty status.

The judge would then be able to consider whether the servicemember’s military status affects his or her ability to pay the rent, and whether to delay the eviction or allow it to proceed.

Up to Three Months

The law enables courts to postpone eviction for three months, or at the judge’s discretion, for either a shorter or longer amount of time. Depending on the facts of the specific case, the court may also rule that an eviction may proceed.

Maximum Rent Amount

Also, the law limits application of this provision to leases with a maximum rent amount that is adjusted each year based on the Consumer Price Index.

For 2014, the eviction protection applies to leases with monthly rent up to $3,217.81, provided that the lease was signed prior to enlistment or the date of active duty.

Protection from Default Judgments

A default judgment can occur if a party to a lawsuit doesn’t show up for court. For example, in eviction cases where a tenant fails to appear to contest the eviction, a landlord would then ask the judge for a default judgment granting the eviction.

Affidavit Required

At that point, SCRA requires the court to ask the landlord to file an affidavit verifying whether the tenant is active duty military. Alternately, if the plaintiff is unable to provide such verification the law requires an affidavit stating that the plaintiff was unable to determine the defendant’s military status.

Cases Can Be Re-Opened

If a servicemember returns home from service to find they have a default judgment against them, the law also allows the servicemember to ask the court to re-open the judgment to allow for a proper defense.

Furthermore, if a landlord knowingly reports false information to the court regarding someone’s military status under SCRA, the landlord can be fined and imprisoned for up to a year under the law.

Checking Active Duty Status

To verify a tenant’s active duty status for provisions under SCRA, the landlord must provide the court an affidavit with a report attached, called a Certificate, that can be obtained for free from the official SCRA site, operated by the Department of Defense.

Here’s an example of an affidavit form from Madison County, Alabama.

Note: There is at least one privately operated, nongovernmental site that charges a fee to perform a search for SCRA eligibility and provide the required affidavit. However, the official site is free, and record requests for a single individual do not require any sign up or account creation by the requester.

The official SCRA site allows anyone to submit a request for a verification of active duty status under Title 10 of the U.S. Code for an individual on a specified date.

The date entered allows the site to check whether or not the individual was either actively serving, had received a notice to serve, or had served up to 367 days prior to the given date.

To perform a search, the site requires the requester to enter the individual’s name and either their date of birth or Social Security number, along with an active duty status date. When the request is submitted, the site immediately provides the report as a downloadable PDF file.

This is one of the rare situations where a landlord needs to have a tenant’s Social Security number (SSN). Without the tenant’s SSN, it’s not possible to say with certainty that the report that’s generated refers to the correct person, because name and date of birth alone are not enough to uniquely identify someone.

If the requester provides only a name and date of birth, the report will include a disclaimer saying that the report is not authoritative.

In Conclusion

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is a complex law, and landlords who have questions about how the law affects their own unique situation with a tenant should consult a lawyer for legal advice.

For further self-directed research, the full text of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (pdf) is available at Congress.gov.

Also, the Congressional Research Service has produced this 26-page paper “The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA): An Explanation.” (PDF via U.S Representative Paul Ryan)

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26 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • mark

    Thanks Congress, just another dumb Republican Law. Make the soldier sign a wavier of their rights under SCRA prior to renting the unit. Beware of the Military Industrial Complex because this law is part of that vision. After reading this article I have modified rental application form to identify the military status , active or reserve and to discriminate appropriately and/or to obtain a co-signer responsible for rent payments.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mark

      Thanks for your comment. You might want to talk to an attorney about that.

      Having the tenant sign a waiver might give the appearance of waiving their rights, but nothing you could ever put in your lease will supersede a state/local statue, or the SCRA.

      The laws are in place to provide structure for leases, and whenever a lease conflicts with a law, the law almost always wins. And worse, if you don’t have a severability clause in your lease, the judge could throw out your whole lease agreement rather than just that one section.

      Even if a servicemember is able to terminate the lease, they will often still pay the termination fee, so at least that will help pay the mortgage until a new tenant is found.

      I’m not a lawyer, nor claim to give legal advice, but I’m confident that any attorney would tell you the same thing.

      • Mray

        Lucas,
        You state that, “Having the tenant sign a waiver might give the appearance of waiving their rights, but nothing you could ever put in your lease will supersede a state/local statue, or the SCRA.” You are correct that, “[N]othing you could ever put in your lease will supersede a state/local statue, or the SCRA.” However Section 571 of the the SCRA specifically provide for tenants waiving their rights under this particular Act.

        I agree with Mark on this one. I have great respect for the men and women of the Armed Forces. The SCRA may have had the right idea, but I believe the execution is wrong. (To be continued …)

        • Mray

          I am a landlord, and, as the SCRA stands now, unless I get a waiver from my tenants, if a soldier or his/her dependents can’t pay, I may not be able evict them. If I can’t evict them, I can’t pay my mortgage. If I can’t pay my mortgage, I lose my building, my source of income, and the financial security for myself and my family. So, as much as I respect the military, without the waiver the SCRA would make me NOT want to rent to them.

          If the government wanted to make sure that Soldiers weren’t worried about evictions when Overseas, they should guarantee the rent. In the old days, if a soldier did not pay his rent, you went to the Army. The Army paid & deducted it from the soldier’s pay. That worked well for everyone, I think.

        • Brian

          Just an addendum to Mray — the applicable section is 517, not 571. full text here: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2011/03/23/scratext.pdf

          § 517. Waiver of rights pursuant to written agreement [Sec. 107]
          (a)
          In general. A servicemember may waive any of the rights and protections provided by this Act. Any such waiver that applies to an action listed in subsection (b) of this section is effective only if it is in writing and is executed as an instrument separate from the obligation or liability to which it applies. In the case of a waiver that permits an action described in subsection (b), the waiver is effective only if made pursuant to a written agreement of the parties that is executed during or after the…

  • Ellen

    i went to a city 3 hours away to look for a place as I just retired . I found a place at first looked at many more I was about to go home she wanted me to rent her apt at $850 as advertised ok I went by and she had a lease she printed on line so I looked thru everything on the lease paid $2300 I did not get a copy she said she would mail it to me . I finally got it in email days later and it is not the same it says she can sell and give 30 day notice to vacate . I am not moving all my stuff 3 hours away while she has that in the lease . I think she drew up another different lease and made different rules I have not taken possession am I still obligated ? She said I already took possession and I have not ?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Ellen

      First of all, switching the leases is illegal. But in order to fight it, you would need some sort of proof. Second, “possession” is when you get access to the unit – usually when you take the keys. But a signed lease still makes you liable for rent even if you haven’t moved in.

      I fear that the only way you could get out of this is if you hire a lawyer to bully her into letting you out.

  • Yo Gotti

    Stfu
    Let them live
    They are heroes

  • George.c

    Hello, does this act protect soldiers from having to pay a deposit when renting an apartment? Also does it make it unlawful for a landlord to do a back round check on any soldier? Thank you for your help.

  • Ellen

    I have rented to military for years, overall great tenants to have. Currently I’m in a situation where there are three roommates all in the military. One has orders to leave and gave notice but the other two are permanent. The lease they signed states they are each “jointly and severally liable” but the other two are claiming they can use the first ones orders to terminate their part of the lease too.

    My understanding is that’s a no go, they do not have orders and therefore are still jointly and severally liable for the remainder of the lease.

    Any thoughts?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Ellen,

      You’d have to talk to a lawyer how is familiar with military situations. I doubt that the remaining two can be released, simply because they don’t have orders.

      However, you may want to make it very easy for them to find a replacement. Offer to help them look for a roommate, or give them your images so they can post an ad. The quicker they find a replacement, the less of an issue this will be.

  • Mike

    I will be renting out my townhome in northern VA soon and after looking at the state law page of this website I don’t fall under the VRLTA, because I only have one property that I own that I would rent out, however I live in and own one other property as well. Therefore I’m not required to adhere to the VRLTA, rather just the URLTA and SCRA. Since I can generate a waiver to get service members to sign to opt them out of the SCRA, would this make the service member(s) an ordinary civilian in terms of enforcing the lease in accordance with the URLTA? I only ask because if they don’t pay the rent, then I need to get them out ASAP. It seems like the SCRA makes that difficult.

    • Mike

      Ah ha.. § 55-248.21:1 of the VRTLA is the section where it talks to the service members. I assumed that since I was exempt from the VRTLA, I dont have to follow it if I don’t want to (not a good idea). The section in the VRTLA that exempts me is § 55-248.5. Some of the exempting items were mentioned on this website for state laws, but after reviewing the actual linked law partially shown below, § 55-248.21:1 of the VRTLA is still applicable. So I can waiver out of the SCRA, but not the § 55-248.21:1 of the VRTLA.

      § 55-248.5. Exemptions; exception to exemption; application of chapter to certain occupants.

      A. Except as specifically made applicable by § 55-248.21:1, the following conditions are not governed by this chapter

  • Alex

    I have a question. If a military tenant’s lease is over and they are on a month-to-month basis does the SCRA protect them. We handed the tenant a notice stating that her tenancy would end at a certain date. No where in the wording of the letter was there eviction. There was no cause to evict because the renter had always paid on time but the landowner wanted to move back in to her home. The tenant then came back with that we could not evict her because of the SCRA but we told her we were not evicting her we where letting her know that her tenancy was over. Is she protected by the SCRA? Or does she have to move out because she no longer has a lease and is only month-to-month?

  • D

    I’m not sure if the SCRA covers my situation or not. I found out (10 days exactly) that the house I’m renting was going to auction for foreclosure. I have paid rent by auto-draft every month for the 1.5 years I’ve been here. The landlord did not give ANY indication that this was possible or occuring.

    The house went back to the bank and they’ve recruited a realtor to ‘flip’ the house. They want me out in 30 days, but my lease written for another 4 months. There is no conceivable way I will be able to move in that time frame. Can I make them get a court order to force me out under the SCRA? I have a hard time believing that a judge wouldn’t give me 90 days or the end of my lease since I’m AD and this was of no fault of mine.

  • Dani

    I have to terminate my lease due to a short notice PCS. Is there anything in the SCRA or any other way to only to be responsible for the remainder of time that I’m in the apartment. I handed in my written notice that I’m moving out/along with my PCS orders on 1 July and let my property manager know that I will be officially moved out by the 10th. They calculated what the rent would be from the 1st-10th and I gave them a money order for that amount. Now they are saying that I have to give them a 30 day notice which means I’m responsible for the whole month plus until the end of August. Then they came back and said that they will only charge me for the 11th-21st since that’s how long it took for them to find a new tenant. to be continued…

  • Dani

    and that I’m responsible for however long it’s vacant until they find a new tenant. Also, can they hold my security deposit as a means to get the rent that is owed? Per the SCRA, it seems like they can’t.

  • eveline

    I’m a home owner and have a month-month lease agreement with a couple who just gave me 30 days notice on Nov 1 since one of them has been called to active duty. However the active duty started October 1st. I suspect the the intent was for one of them to stay in the town home but they changed their mind. If they didn’t notify me at the time the active duty starts is the 30 day notification still valid?

  • Daniel DeHoff

    I need help – i’m a landlord of commercial space – I have a full blown business in 8,000 sq ft – a brewery, which was opened by a good guy – 2 years into his 5 year lease he signed with us – he gives me notice that he is being relocated to Columbus Ohio to work permanently – and says he is protected under this law and can walk away from the commitments he made with us. This is a major problem and a major loss to us. This is not an apartment, but a business that we assisted in building out. Why would someone sign a 5 year lease, but have this out at any time? I would appreciate it if I can get some guidance. I dont believe everything this gentleman is telling me. 330-499-8153 or ddehoff@dehoff.com

  • Robert

    I have a military tenant in VA who gave me his notice to break the lease due to PCS. His orders changed his job to be 20 miles away, well within the local commuting area (old PDS 15 minute commute; new PDS 35 minute commute). His orders state that his service won’t pay to move him (or actually pay for anything). The SCRA does not list a mileage requirement (the lease states a 35 mile “military clause”, standard for VA leases), but it appears that the SCRA holds. This should not be the intent of the SCRA? I was working with the tenant to get out of the lease as he was going through a divorce. I handed him a list of damages that would need to be paid (no fees, just lost rent, re-advertising, etc), and one month later (no contact), PCS orders

  • Robert

    Any case law or other documents that clarify the local PCS move and breaking a lease under the SCRA would be greatly appreciated!

  • Sara

    We just got “properly” out of a one- year lease on a property in Florida. The property management company kept $1025 out of our $1750 security claiming $740 for touch up painting and $235 for cleaning. I have pictures to prove that we left the house in excellent (!!) condition. We also touched up the paint from nail holes where our pictures were hung, but we didn’t touch up previously existing nail holes that we did not cause. What recourse do we have? Small claims court only? Mind you we already transferred to another state. We called the landlords whom we have had a good relati Bahia with and she said the company charged them a cleaning fee also!

  • Wendy Pender

    we r renting a house and our landlord was a service member now we r forced to move out neither me nor my fiance r service members we have 3 children the v.a took ownership what r we allowed to do isn’t what they did against the law

  • Sheri

    Cannot seem to find an answer to this anywhere! Can a landlord/prop mgmt company raise the rent of an active duty military member? Our lease is coming up for renewal and my son is a named tenant on the lease, but he is now active duty.

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