Your relationship to your landlord is determined by local law and the terms of your lease, not by federal law. It is particularly important that you carefully read the lease before signing it. If you have any questions about what you are signing, talk to the Legal Office first. The sections below provide helpful information on Landlord-Tenant Matters.
A. MILITARY CLAUSE FOR LEASES - Before you sign a lease ensure the following provision is in the lease:
ADDENDUM TO THE LEASE
This addendum is hereby made part of the lease entered into
between ___________________________ the Landlord (Lessor) and
___________________________ the Tenant(s) (Lessee) on __________________,
____, and thereby amends any other provisions in the lease regarding
termination of the lease:
The Tenant (Lessee) or one of the joint Tenants is a member of the United States Armed Forces and is thereby subject to possible transfer by the Armed Force. Therefore it is agreed that the military Tenant and any joint Tenant may terminate the lease upon 30 days notice to the Landlord upon any of the following events:
1. The military Tenant receives official orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) to a location in another state or more than 25 miles from the premises.
2. The military Tenant is released from active duty.
3. The military Tenant has leased the premises in anticipation of a move to the area, but the current orders of the military Tenant are changed to require duty in a location in another state or more than 25 miles from the premises.
4. The military Tenant receives official orders requiring him or her to move into government owned or leased housing.
If the lease is terminated under the terms of this addendum, the Landlord (Lessor) will refund the Tenant's security deposit in the amount and within the time otherwise required by the law of the state in which the premises are located without penalty for the early termination.
Download a MS Word copy of the Military Clause for leases here:
B. Common Landlord/Tenant problems:
1. Cancellation on Transfer. As noted above, you need to negotiate
a "military clause" (a suggested form is in the CG PERSMAN,
COMDTINST M1000.6A, 16-A-4-e). Often, a landlord will not be willing
to use that language, but will have a form "transfer by employer"
clause in a standard lease. This may do the trick. But there are
dangers to watch for:
a. A civilian "transfer by employer" clause will not deal with the problem of being moved into government quarters. Thus, you need to check with your housing officer to make sure that is not going to occur.
b. Most such clauses drafted by landlords (or their lawyers) have very strict and often confusing procedural requirements-e.g., "tenant will send by registered mail notice to the home office in New York notice no later than 60 days before the beginning of the last period of occupancy," which means that you must give the proper notice 90 days ahead of time. You might not have any choice about whether or not to accept such a provision. On the other hand, there might be room for negotiation. If you do need to accept such a provision, the important thing is to be well aware of exactly what the notice requirements are when a PCS is coming up.
c. Many such clauses have limitation or penalty provisions- e.g. requiring that the tenant may not cancel before the first six months regardless, or that the tenant forfeits the security deposit or two months rent. You may need to accept such terms. But make sure that you understand what you are signing. The legal assistance officer would much rather look over a faxed copy of a proposed lease before you sign it, rather than when it becomes a big problem afterwards.
2. Automatic Renewals. Many written leases have automatic renewal
provisions, e.g. after a year, the lease automatically renews
for another full year unless you give notice of cancellation.
3. Giving Notice to Landlords. Whether or not you have a lease, you need to be sensitive to the fact that, under the laws of most states, required notices must be given at the beginning of the rental period, e.g. you are renting without a lease, rent paid on the 1st of each month. You can't give the landlord notice on the 15th that you plan to move out the 15th of the next month. You need to give notice on the 1st. So you are on the hook to the end of next month. Note; Michigan is one of the few states that does not follow this common law rule, and will let you out one month after notice (Mich. Compiled Laws 554.134(I)). So that's why a call to the legal assistance officer, even after the problem comes up, may be of help. In many states (including Michigan) the required period of notice is generally the period of payment of rent.
4. Landlord Tenant Codes. Many states (including Michigan) have landlord-tenant codes which establish a number of basic protections for tenants, some of which cannot be changed by a lease. In Michigan, for example, this includes provision to ensure "fitness and habitability," particular rules about the handling of security deposits, and rules about attorney's fees and damages in disputes between landlords and tenants (Mich. Compiled Laws 554.601 et seq.). In most states, a tenant can pursue their remedies against a landlord in small claims court, without an attorney. Michigan has a small claims procedure, good for claims up to $1,500.00 (Mich. Compiled Laws 600.840I et seq.) See subsection III-H below.
5. Withholding Rent. If you have a complaint against a landlord, it is almost always a bad idea to withhold rent. Consult a legal assistance officer about the proper way to address the complaint.