As a member of the military there are special laws that can have a substantial influence on your rights in property rental and ownership.

Perhaps one of the most important areas affected by these laws is that of landlord-tenant law.

Each state has different laws that affect a military member’s rights in a landlord-tenant relationship. Each case is unique, requiring individual attention from a qualified legal professional in order to accurately evaluate the potential issues arising from landlord-tenant contracts and disputes.

Section 535 of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows military members to terminate a lease if, after signing the lease, the tenant (1) enters military service (including a reservist being called to active duty) or (2) receives military orders for a permanent-change-of-station move, deployment, or tour of duty for a period of not less than 90 days.

A lease may be terminated under the SCRA by (1) providing the landlord written notice of termination, (2) providing the landlord with a copy of the servicemember’s orders, and (3) accomplishing requirements (1) and (2) via personal service, private business carrier, or by U.S. mail (return receipt requested).

Under the SCRA, the lease will terminate 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due and payable after the date on which the notice is delivered.

For example, if a tenant delivers notice to the landlord Jan. 20, and normally pays rent on the 1st of each month, the lease would end March 1 with the tenant paying February’s rent.

Section 531 of the SCRA declares that eviction of a military tenant and dependants may not occur during a period of military service unless a court order for the eviction is obtained.

This protection applies only to leases covering the principal residence of the military member, and for leases less than a certain amount specified in the statute ($2,400 per month as of 2003, with adjustments made yearly for housing cost inflation).

A court may delay eviction proceedings or adjust the amount of rent under the lease (if the cause of the eviction is the servicemember’s inability to pay the full rent amount) so long as the interests of both parties are accommodated.

For debts incurred before military service, the SCRA limits the maximum amount of interest that can be charged. This maximum rate allowable under the SCRA is currently set by Congress at 6 percent. This interest rate reduction applies to joint obligations that a servicemember may have with a spouse. When the reduction takes place, any interest in excess of the maximum rate is forgiven.

The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act automatically applies to most leases entered into in Virginia, and in some cases may provide more protection for servicemembers than the SCRA.

The VRLTA does not apply to the rental of a single family home or condo if the owner is a person who rents no more than four to ten units (depending on the location of the units and the applicable property management plan for the location). Even if the VRLTA does not automatically apply, the landlord and tenant can agree in the lease to comply with the provisions of the Act, as it provides protection for both parties.

The landlord may charge an application fee or deposit, however they must refund any amount over $20 or provide a written list of expenses of over $20 if the landlord rejects the tenant’s application or the tenant decides not to rent the unit. The refund must be given within ten days if the application fee or deposit was paid by cash or money order, or within twenty days if it was paid by credit card or personal check.

The landlord must give the tenant a list of damages within five days after the tenant moves into the property, after which the tenant then has five days to respond and correct any inaccuracies in the landlord’s report. If the tenant does not respond, the landlord’s list is assumed to be correct.

The VRLTA requires that a “military clause” be automatically included in every residential lease, even if the lease is exempt from other sections of the VRLTA. A “military clause” allows a servicemember to terminate a lease if he or she receives (1) PCS orders to a duty station more than 35 miles from the rental property, (2) TAD orders for more than 3 months to a duty station more than 35 miles from the rental property, (3) orders to live in government quarters, or (4) a release from active duty. The servicemember must give the landlord written notice at least 30 days in advance and provide a copy of the orders; however the lease cannot be terminated more than 60 days prior to the member departing under orders. The final month’s rent will be prorated to the actual day that the servicemember moves out.

The VRLTA protects the landlord by allowing them to charge the servicemember one month’s rent if the member has completed less than six months under the lease, or one-half month’s rent if the member has completed more than six but less than 12 months under the lease. Lease agreements can be drafted to prevent the servicemember from having to pay a penalty so long as both parties agree to the terms.

If the landlord hasn’t signed the lease but accepts rent, or the tenant hasn’t signed the lease but has moved in and paid rent, the VRLTA treats the lease just as if it had been signed. If the terms of the unsigned lease are for more than one year, such terms are treated as if they are effective for only one year.

The landlord may require a security deposit of up to and including, but not more than, the equivalent of two month’s rent. The landlord must pay interest on the security deposit, but must refund the interest to the tenant only if the security deposit is held for at least 13 months after the date of the original rental agreement. When the tenant moves out, the landlord may apply the security deposit plus any accrued interest to any damages, except normal wear and tear, caused by the tenant. Any unpaid rent, late payment fees, or other charges allowed by the lease may be satisfied by use of the security deposit and interest.