LTJG Adrianne Mittelstaedt
Landlords and property managers might grimace at this article, but the truth is, if you have received separation orders from the military (under honorable conditions) you can terminate your residential apartment lease early. The common misconception is that separation orders are not included in the relief granted under the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA). To the contrary, separation orders are valid both under the SCRA and current Washington state law.
The confusion arises for most because the language in both state and federal law requires “reassignment,” “deployment,” or a “permanent change of station” which many landlords believe excludes discharge or separation of servicemembers. However, under the Washington Residential Landlord-Tenant Act the legislature intended reassignment or deployment to include circumstances where the servicemember needs to leave the area because of an unexpected change in their military duties. Recognizing that military members need to change locations for a variety of reasons, the legislature did not try to include every term in the law nor did they limit how far the service member was going upon their change of station. Under Washington law, landlords should receive your separation orders within seven days of receipt if you intend to terminate your lease early.
Similarly, the SCRA enacted by Congress in 2003, a federal protection for servicemembers, is triggered upon a “permanent change of station.” Many landlords don’t realize that the Joint Federal Travel Regulation includes separation, resignation, discharge, transfer to the Fleet Reserve and retirement as permanent change of station moves.
Be aware also that many landlords will try to limit these protections in a military “addendum” or clause in your lease. If you’re concerned about any of the language in your lease, be sure to seek legal advice before signing. Additionally, if you receive separation orders and your landlord won’t budge on your lease, stop by your local Navy Legal Service Office to get further information.