Military Tenant Not Off the Hook for Rent

by Janet Portman, Inman News

SoldierQ: I am a landlord and had a tenant who is in the Army Reserves. He received mobilization orders in February, directing him to appear in June, several months away.

My tenant just gave me a verbal notice seven days before he left.

He claims he is entitled to a full refund of his deposit because the Army gives some rights to their personnel when they have to be mobilized.

I would like to know if this is true and what my options are. –Robert S.

A: As a member of the armed services, your tenant does have special rights when it comes to breaking a lease, if that’s what he has to do to fulfill his activation orders. Under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, a tenant who must move can give his landlord a 30-day notice, which will end the tenancy 30 days after the rent is next due. For example, suppose rent is due on the first, and your tenant gives you a 30-day notice on Dec. 15. Responsibility for rent will end on Feb. 1 (but the tenant must still pay January’s rent).

Your tenant had plenty of time to give you the required amount of notice. Having given you only seven days is not sufficient. You may treat this notice as if it was done properly — that is, consider it a 30-day notice and consider the tenancy to have ended 30 days after the date that rent would have been next due.

Now to the security deposit. The Servicemembers’ law does not vary your state’s rules on the retention and use of the deposit. In general, you may use the deposit to cover unpaid rent and to remedy damage in excess of normal wear and tear. If your tenant left the place spotless and had no unpaid rent to his name, you’d need to return the entire deposit. But apparently the tenant did leave unpaid rent behind — that next month’s rent, which he was responsible for under the Servicemembers’ law. You may deduct that month’s rent from the deposit.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at [email protected].

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Copyright 2008 Janet Portman

See Janet Portman’s feature Tenants Say Security Deposit Increase is Illegal.

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