By Capt. Jonathan Dial, 90th Missile Wing Judge Advocate
/ Published April 14, 2015
F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- The first and most important piece of advice I can give you is, READ YOUR LEASE. If something does not make sense, or seems fishy, schedule an appointment with the legal office and come talk to an attorney before you sign anything.
When you sign the lease, with certain exceptions, your options for redress will be very limited. The lease is a binding contract and you could also potentially be subject to penalties if you violate that contract.
Moreover, it is usually best to include any verbal understandings between landlord and tenant in the lease, since that will alleviate potential problems down the road.
While the lease will contain many of the provisions that govern the landlord-tenant agreement, there are certain laws and duties that apply regardless of whether they are contained within the document.
A landlord must ensure the property is safe and sanitary for human occupation, maintain common rental areas in a sanitary and reasonably safe manner, and maintain electrical systems, plumbing, heating, and hot and cold water. If an issue ever arises with your landlord that they cannot or will not resolve, again, talk to an attorney at the legal office.
On the flip side, a tenant must maintain the dwelling in a clean and safe condition, occupy the dwelling in the manner for which it was intended and must not interfere with another person's peaceful enjoyment of the residential property.
Finally, one of the most common problems that we see at the legal office has to do with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the so-called "Military Clause" that may or may not be present in your lease.
SCRA allows a military member who receives PCS or deployment orders for 90 days or more to break his or her lease without penalty. This does not include orders to move on base. You are still subject to the lease in that case and cannot break it without penalty.
Something to keep in mind is that, even if your lease does not contain that clause or anything explicitly invoking SCRA, this provision still applies.
The only other requirement is that you deliver written notice to your landlord - oral notification is insufficient - along with a copy of your orders. You can give notice at any time, but for month-to-month rentals, assuming rent is due on the first day of the month, the termination becomes effective 30 days after the date your next rent payment is due. For example, if you were to give notice on Aug. 1, the lease would be terminated on Oct. 1.
For any other lease, termination becomes effective on the last day of the month following the month in which you gave notice. So, if you were to give notice on June 15, the lease termination would become effective on July 31. Again, having the Military Clause in your lease is not necessary, but it is in everyone's best interest to include it just in case.