A Landlord Guide to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

The SCRA is a federal law that provides rights and protections to military personnel involved in civil proceedings.  In this post, we review the SCRA and the impact on landlords.

Introduction

Navigating the intricacies of renting to members of the military involves more than understanding the application process—landlords must also grasp the legal framework designed to protect service members’ unique needs. Being that San Diego, California is home to several U.S. Military bases, this relief act needs to be understood.

One such anchoring piece of legislature is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This guidance sets a clear trajectory on the best practices for integrating the SCRA into rental agreements, understanding tenant requirements, and crafting precise verbiage that aligns with existing mandates.

What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?

What is SCRA? The SCRA is a federal law that provides rights and protections to military personnel involved in civil proceedings. For landlords specifically, the SCRA outlines the parameters for how members of the armed forces should be treated in matters of rental agreements, lease terminations, and evictions, ensuring that being called to serve their country does not cause undue stress on their personal affairs.

The Foundation of SCRA in the Rental Sphere

The SCRA stipulates that military members cannot be evicted without a court order if the rent does not exceed $3,294.29 per month in 2022, adjusted annually to reflect changes in the consumer price index for all urban consumers. This ceiling is designed to keep rental payments manageable for active-duty service members, who may be faced with deploying to parts unknown at any given time. In addition, it covers all rental properties, including those that are not covered by any other local landlord-tenant laws.

Protections Beyond Eviction

SCRA protections extend beyond the courtroom. The act requires that landlords receive writing of the active duty service member’s intention to terminate before orders are received for a change of station or the end of a lease term. Further, monthly rental sums accrued before the termination date are subject to proration, even if the service member has vacated.

Inclusion in the Rental Lease: A Necessity or Not?

The question of whether the SCRA (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) should be explicitly included in a rental lease is one that garners much debate among landlords. Some argue for its inclusion as a safeguard for both parties, while others maintain that it’s federal law and should not require reiteration. To put it simply: including SCRA verbiage is not obligatory, but it does provide clarity and security in the event that legal disputes or misunderstandings arise.

Why Consider SCRA Inclusion in Your Lease Agreements

Explicitly mentioning the SCRA in the lease presents the opportunity for proactive education. Service members may not always be fully versed in their legal protections, so including this information serves as an educational tool and a testament to the landlord’s commitment to compliance and fair treatment.

The Risks of Omission

Leaving out the SCRA in the rental lease could lead to confusion about the rights of military tenants. It could also result in the inadvertent violation of the law and consequential legal issues. For landlords who lease to both military and civilian tenants, uniform lease language that incorporates SCRA policies can help prevent hiccups in compliance.

Understanding Tenant Requirements

To uphold the SCRA, landlords must be attuned to the unique circumstances of their military tenants. Here’s what you need to know about their requirements:

Written Notice

Service members covered by the SCRA must provide written notice of termination along with a copy of their deployment orders or a letter from their commanding officer. This notice should be given at the earliest opportunity, ideally with a 30-day lead time.

Prorated Rent

Upon termination notice, rent for the month in which the notice was given is usually prorated based on the number of days the premises were occupied. This is an important provision to consider, as it ensures fair financial treatment in accordance with a service member’s duty to deploy or change station.

Crafting the Lease Verbiage

Should you decide to include SCRA information in your lease, the wording must be precise to be effective and legally compliant. Here’s a sample SCRA incorporation within your lease language:

Sample SCRA Lease Clause

[Landlord’s Business Name] acknowledges and agrees to the rights and protections afforded to service members under the SCRA (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act), including the provision of a security deposit, rent, or other material lease violation protections and lease termination under proper notice for active-duty military personnel.

Landlord recognizes and will honor the 6% interest limit on obligations incurred before military service for service members on active duty, as set forth in the SCRA, 50 U.S.C. § 3937(c)(1).

In the event of lease termination arising from military orders or relocation, the lease will be terminated on the last day of the month following the month in which proper notice is provided, in accordance with the SCRA, Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Legal Counsel: The Ultimate Protagonist in Lease Creation

The development and modification of lease agreements, especially concerning military affairs, warrant the involvement of legal counsel. Attorneys specializing in real estate law can provide the necessary guidance and expertise to ensure that your lease language aligns perfectly with the SCRA, affording the highest levels of protection and understanding for your military tenants.

Going Above and Beyond Compliance

While ensuring compliance with the SCRA is a significant step for landlords, building a culture of support and understanding military tenants is more than a checkbox—it’s a value-add.

Providing Resources

Offering resources and information about the SCRA can empower military personnel to navigate their rights confidently. This might include a one-pager in the tenant welcome kit or a section on the property’s website with SCRA facts and frequently asked questions.

Establishing a Support System

Mobilize internal support systems, like a dedicated point of contact or a liaison within your property management team, trained to handle SCRA-related matters and to facilitate open communication with military tenants.

Emphasizing Fairness

Lastly, always aim to communicate the message that you support and value the sacrifices made by service members. Acts of flexibility and understanding can establish long-term trust and loyalty from your military tenants.

Closing Thoughts

In the lexicon of renting, the SCRA is not a mere footnote—it’s an integral chapter in the narrative of landlord-tenant relationships. Understanding the act, its requirements, and the potential impacts on lease design is essential for every landlord, especially those ready to embrace the diverse and distinguished clientele that military renters represent.

As you fortify your lease agreements with the principles of the SCRA, remember that clarity and respect form the bedrock of a successful landlord-tenant partnership. By taking proactive steps to incorporate SCRA verbiage, educate your staff, and empower your military tenants, you transcend mere compliance and enter a realm where every housing lease agreement becomes a testament to the unwavering bond between landlord and service member.

For an in-depth understanding of the SCRA and its current provisions, we invite our readers to visit the official website of the U.S. Department of Justice at https://www.justice.gov/servicemembers, where comprehensive resources and updated information are readily available. Landlords, especially those in areas with a strong military presence, will find this resource indispensable for ensuring compliance and maintaining the highest level of service and respect for our servicemembers’ rental needs. This commitment to legal adherence and proactive management is consistent with Crestmont’s dedication to excellence in property management and aligns with our ethos of providing transparent, knowledgeable, and robust support to property owners and tenants alike.

 
The Crestmont Team

FAQs

SCRA stands for the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a federal law that provides legal and financial protections for military service members.

SCRA benefits are available to active-duty servicemembers, including members of the National Guard and Reserve when they are on federal active duty, as well as commissioned officers of the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Under the SCRA, a military tenant may terminate their lease early without penalty if they receive orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) or if deployed for a period of 90 days or more.

To terminate a lease under SCRA, the active duty service members must provide written notice to the landlord along with a copy of their military orders or a letter from their commanding officer.

No, landlords cannot charge early termination fees if a servicemember legally terminates a lease under the protections of the SCRA.

The SCRA caps interest rates at 6% for financial obligations incurred prior to military service, including credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans.

Yes, certain SCRA protections, such as the 6% interest rate cap and eviction protections, can extend to the dependents of servicemembers if they are co-signed on an obligation or lease.

Landlords can verify a servicemember’s status by requesting a copy of their military orders or by using the Defense Manpower Data Center’s (DMDC) Military Verification service.

Landlords should engage in open communication with the servicemember to understand the circumstances and seek to resolve the matter amicably, while still respecting the legal protections under the SCRA.

Authoritative information on the SCRA can be found at the official U.S. Department of Justice website, https://www.justice.gov/servicemembers. Landlords and servicemembers are encouraged to use this resource for comprehensive guidance.

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