Tenants come in all shapes and forms. For the most part, tenants are generally afforded the same protections under the law. And then, there are military tenants who also have their own rights as tenants.
A Landlord’s Guide to Renting to Military Tenants
Being a landlord is often a tricky endeavor. The job is riddled with tasks and problems, not to mention requiring decent knowledge of the law. It is even made more challenging when military tenants are thrown into the mix.
While a good chunk of servicemembers lives in military housing, a larger portion do not. In fact, according to the Department of Defense, 63 percent of servicemembers live off-base in private homes. There are certain privileges servicemembers enjoy when it comes to housing — both in terms of homeownership and tenancy. The law provides military tenant protection that landlords must follow or else face liability.
What are some of the things landlords should remember when renting to military tenants? Keep reading on.
Early Lease Termination Without Penalty
According to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), military tenants have the ability to terminate their lease early without penalty under certain circumstances. Remember that servicemembers may be called into duty or transferred to a different location at any time. As such, they need the freedom to move out of their rented homes with little notice.
Federal law permits this in three instances:
- Entry into the lease before active service;
- Permanent change of station received while on active duty;
- Deployment in excess of 90 days while on active duty.
Keep in mind that state laws may impose additional instances wherein servicemembers can terminate their lease early. Landlords should research and understand the laws in their own state to avoid legal trouble. A lawyer or property manager may also be able to provide help with this.
Missed Payments Without Much Consequence
What should a landlord do when a military tenant is not paying rent? The SCRA covers this, too. Even with Basic Allowance for Housing, it is entirely possible for a military tenant to miss a payment or two. But, the SCRA affords servicemembers some room to delay rent payments without penalty.
Landlords should bear this in mind as military tenants may stop paying rent and suffer no consequences. This is a potential loss of income for landlords. Of course, this does not happen often, as most servicemembers have an incredible work ethic that ensures they fulfill their duties.
Eviction Only With Court Orders
In general, landlords initiate eviction proceedings as a result of the nonpayment of rent. For servicemember tenants, this is not usually the case. Unless the rent costs more than $4,089.62, landlords can’t evict a military tenant without a court order. The monthly rental rate of $4,089.62 is only as of 2021. The amount changes on an annual basis, so make sure to check beforehand.
If a military tenant misses their rent payments due to work, a court can put a pause on eviction proceedings for up to three months or, sometimes, even longer. Of course, this does not mean the tenant is not liable for the missed payments. Servicemembers also should not use it as a way to escape paying rent completely.
Military renters rights typically extend to their families, too. According to the SCRA, the above protections apply to military tenants and families.
The Effect of COVID-19 on the Mortgages of Servicemembers
Beginning June 1, 2021, the Defense Department’s Military Tenant Bill of Rights took effect. The bill has more to do with on-base military houses, though it simply goes to demonstrate the value placed upon servicemembers when it comes to housing.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic plunged many Americans into debt, as unemployment rose and income losses became common. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Relief (CARES) Act provided some cushion to homeowners and tenants. Many military borrowers entered forbearance programs to prevent foreclosing on their homes. Such programs expired at the end of 2021, but the SCRA remains in effect.
Both the Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have issued warnings to landlords and mortgage providers, reminding them of the protections that apply to military tenants. This comes after an onslaught of complaints from both military tenants and their families.
Can Landlords Refuse to Rent to Military Tenants?
The federal Fair Housing Act does not recognize military status as a protected class. This generally means landlords can refuse to rent to servicemembers because of the disadvantages associated with it.
However, several state-level fair housing laws do recognize military status as a protected class. In such states (and even local areas), refusing to rent to servicemembers would amount to housing discrimination.
Benefits of Renting to Military Tenants
On the surface, it may seem like renting to servicemembers would be a bad decision. Granted, there are a few drawbacks to it, but there are also a number of benefits.
1. Reliable Source of Income
The government provides military members with a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) if they want to live off-base. This means servicemembers have a regular stipend that can pay for rent. It is a reliable source of income, though the amount will depend on a number of factors, including rank, location, and dependents. Landlords who would like to know how much a military member earns in BAH can request a Leave and Earning Statement (LES).
2. Wider Pool of Renters
With 63 percent of military members living off-base, landlords have access to a wider pool of potential tenants. This is particularly great for rental properties in more rural areas that often have difficulty landing renters.
3. Rental Partnership Program
The Rental Partnership Program (RPP) connects landlords with servicemembers searching for private housing off-base. Landlords can benefit from the wider reach this program affords as well as rent paid from military funds. Additionally, under this program, active duty renters must have permanent orders to be stationed in the area for as long as the duration of the lease. This greatly minimizes the known disadvantages of renting to servicemembers.
The Final Word
There is a lot of stigmas associated with renting to military tenants. Because servicemembers move around a lot and quite unexpectedly, landlords must deal with early lease terminations. Plus, there are certain military tenant protections under the SCRA that can mess with how landlords typically conduct business. All things considered, there are both pros and cons. The important thing is that landlords familiarize themselves with these laws.
Finding it hard to understand the laws on military tenant protection? Look for a property management company to help. Start your search today using our comprehensive online directory.
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