In this episode of MoneyTalk with MFLN Personal Finance, Dr. Barbara O’Neill highlights many of the issues discussed by Ms. Mary Benzinger in our March 12, 2019 webinar, PCS Series: Landlord-Tenant Protections for Military Members. View the recorded webinar, webinar slides and additional resources from the webinar here.
This webinar talked about a proposed Tenant’s Bill of Rights. What is this all about?
It is a list of rights for military members in private housing. Some of the rights that service members should expect as renters are a safe and healthy home; responsive communications with their landlord; prompt repairs; a dispute resolution process through mediation or arbitration; clearly defined move-in, move-out, and security deposit procedures; and predictable rent and fees. Military families should also check to see if their state’s Landlord/Tenant Act applies to their tenancy and review it carefully. Not every tenancy is covered.
Our webinar presenter, Attorney Mary Benzinger, emphasized the importance of reading the lease, which sounds obvious, but what should prospective tenants be on the watch for in a lease?
Ms. Benzinger encouraged webinar participants to get legal assistance at their installation if they don’t understand certain sections of a lease and to not be pressured to sign immediately. Some items that she specifically mentioned were putting oral “side deals” and agent promises in writing (in the lease itself or in a signed addendum); have the address of the property, the lease term, and the amount of termination notice included in the lease; and spelling out details about pets and fees (e.g., late fee and returned check fee).
Many webinar participants were surprised to learn that service animals are not considered pets. What should a potential renter with a service animal do to rent a property that doesn’t allow pets?
Yes, this was new information for me also and a key take-away was that no pet deposit is required for service animals. Undoubtedly, some military members have service animals. Tenants should be up front with landlords about their service animal and provide documentation about its service role status, if needed.
Can you talk a bit about the importance of renter’s insurance? What does it cover? Can the same policy be used at a different rental location?
Renter’s insurance covers personal property losses, liability for court-ordered damages to other people (e.g., if someone slips and falls in your unit), and additional living expenses if your unit becomes uninhabitable (e.g., after a fire). It is an increasingly common requirement of tenants. With respect to changing the premises that are covered by a policy if tenants move, they should contact their insurance agent to assure a seamless transition. The policy premium on the second unit may vary from the first unit if risk factors change significantly.
How does the SCRA protect renting military families?
SCRA stands for the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. It allows military members to terminate leases without penalty as a result of PCS orders, even if there is no provision for this in the lease. Landlords are not allowed to charge military tenants a penalty if tenants follow certain SCRA rules. For example, service members must provide written notice of termination and a copy of military orders (or letter from a commander) and it must be hand-delivered or mailed (with enough postage) to the landlord with return receipt requested. Ms. Benzinger advised seeking legal assistance at a military installation for SCRA requests, so they are handled properly.