January 22, 2002

Right of Soldiers to Terminate Residential Leases

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Ken Richie

As more of our military personnel are deployed around the world to fight terrorism, many leave behind leased apartments and houses. Residential landlords seeking to enforce those leases must first familiarize themselves with the unique laws protecting active military personnel.

By federal law, active military personnel may unilaterally terminate any residential or commercial lease, if: (1) the lease was executed by or on the behalf of the soldier prior to his or her military service; and (2) the premises were utilized by the soldier or his or her dependents. To terminate such a lease, the soldier must notify the landlord in writing of his or her intent to terminate the lease any time after beginning his or her military service. If lease payments are due monthly, the lease will be deemed terminated 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due. For all other leases, the lease will be deemed terminated the month following the month in which the notice was received. The soldier may be entitled to a reduction in rent during this period or a refund of any rental advances. These laws are designed to protect military personnel from financial hardship when they are called to duty.

If the residential landlord knowingly detains the personal property of any military tenant or his or her dependents, or interferes with the removal of such property from the premises, the landlord may be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.

Federal law imposes additional burdens on residential landlords seeking to evict active military personnel and their dependents. If the monthly rental payments are $1,200 or less, the landlord must seek leave of the court before initiating any eviction or distress proceedings. Even if the court grants leave to pursue the eviction, the court may stay all proceedings for up to three months. Again, if the residential landlord violates these provisions, he or she may be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.

In addition to these federal provisions, many states impose additional obligations on the landlord of military tenants. Often, such laws mirror the federal requirements. Some states, however, have unique provisions including those governing notice and the return of security deposits or lease termination penalties.

To protect your rights, avoid penalties and support our troops, you should become familiar with these laws and their implications for any existing residential leases. For a more thorough discussion of these and other obligations imposed on landlords of military tenants, check your local state laws and the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relieve Act of 1940, 50 App. USCA §§ 530, 534, or you can contact our office.

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