Landlord Issues: Joint Leases and SCRA

By: Peter C. Kratcoski, Esq.

Researcher: Patrick Moore

Tom Kremic

                                                                                                                                                           

The Service-members Civil Relief Act affects both landlords and tenants. When a tenant joins the military it is fairly common for the person to be required to relocate. The issue that often arises for the landlord and tenants is how the relocation of the service-member effects the legality of the Lease Agreement entered into between the parties. The purpose of this article is to provide some practical information on these types of situations so that both landlords and tenants will have a better understanding of their respective rights regarding this Act.

  • Service-members Civil Relief Act

The Service-members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides members of the military and their families with certain protections and benefits. Formally known as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA), enacted in 1940, the SCRA has two main purposes. One, to protect and enable service-members to devote their time and energy to defending the country, and two, to temporarily suspend judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that affect service-members during their military service.

  • Leases and SCRA

The SCRA protects service-members and their families when the service-member is actively on duty and needs to terminate a lease. In § 535 of the SCRA, the protection is extended to the service-member’s spouse, children, and any dependent for whom the service-member has provided more than one-half of the individuals support for 180 days before the notice of terminating the lease.

The only action the service-member must make is to give written notice of terminating the lease in accordance with SCRA. The service member must provide the landlord with a written notice and a copy of their military orders either given by hand or mail. If no written notice is delivered the service-member is not eligible for lease termination through SCRA. Once this notice is given to the landlord, the termination of the lease is officially 30 days after the date on which the next rental payment is due. For example, if the tenant’s rental payments are due on the first of each month and the tenant gives notice of termination of the lease via SCRA on September 6th, then the lease will be terminated on October 30th.

Any prepaid rent must be returned to the service-member within 30 days of the termination of the lease. So continuing with the example above, the prepaid rent must be returned to the service-member by November 30th.

  • Joint Leases and SCRA

The situation described above was fairly straightforward, but things can become more complicated when dealing with joint leases. The protections afforded by SCRA are extended to the service-members family and dependents, however, when there are multiple people on a lease and each tenant is joint and severally liable for the entire rent, then the remaining members on the lease may be responsible for the service-members portion of the rent. For example, if a service-member and his fiancé enter into a lease and the service-member is relocated due to active service, the service-member would be able to terminate his section of the lease, but the fiancé would become liable for the entire portion of the lease. Because the protection exclusively applies to legally married spouses, joint and severally liability would cause the whole portion of the rent to become the fiancé’s responsibility.

In the same way, if a group of friends were to rent a unit for which they were jointly and severally liable, unless the lease specified how much each tenant owes, if one of the tenants were a service member deployed for not less than 90 days and wanted to terminate his or her portion of the lease, the other three tenants would then be responsible for the servicemembers portion of the rent. The landlord’s income for the unit would in theory be unaffected, and the remaining tenants’ only real option to mitigate these additional costs would be to find another roommate and have him/her sign another lease.

  • Future Service-member Rentals and Refusing Rental

Unfortunately, all of this may motivate some landlords to avoid renting to service-members for fear of having a unit left vacant partway through the lease. While there is no federal law saying that a landlord cannot discriminate against someone based on their military service, there is an Ohio statute that will prohibits it. According to Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §4735.55(A), a landlord may not discriminate against anyone because of their military status.

This article is simply a general guide to inform landlords and tenants help some prevent possible issues regarding this topic. Unfortunately, no brief article can cover all the specific fact and scenarios which may be relevant to a specific case.   The attorneys at Williams, Kratcoski & Can are knowledgeable and experienced with landlord/tenant law. We have represented both landlords and tenants throughout Portage and Summit counties, as well as northeast Ohio in general. If you are currently facing issues regarding SCRA please do not hesitate to contact our office to discuss your options.