New Maryland law expands residential lease early termination protections for service-members

Gov. Larry Hogan (seated, center) shakes the hand of Yosefi Seltzer, a Fort Meade Leagl Assistance attorney, after signing into law new protections for service members and their spouses who seek to early-terminate residential leases, May 25, 2017. Bill sponsors include State Sen. Robert Cassilly of Harford County (back row, far left); State Del. William Folden of Frederick (back row, third from left); and State Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (back row, far right) of Montgomery County, who is the Senate chair of the Veterans Caucus in the Maryland General Assembly. | Photo by Joe Andrucyk

On May 25, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed into law additional protections for service-members and their spouses who seek to early-terminate residential leases.

The new protections, which become effective on October 1, 2017, will now allow early-termination of residential leases when: 1) the service-member is ordered to reside in housing or quarters located on a military installation; 2) the service-member is released from Active Duty orders through retirement, separation or discharge under Honorable Conditions; and 3) demobilization of activated reservists or National Guardsmen who were serving on Active Duty orders of 180 or more consecutive days. The new law also extends the same early-termination protections to spouses if they are relying upon the service-member’s orders.

Routinely, service-members and their spouses sign residential leases when arriving at a new duty station with the expectation that they will be able to remain there for the duration of their military orders which typically are two, three or more years in length.

All too often, military orders are changed prematurely: service-members are ordered to deploy, are medically retired or are sent to a Temporary Duty assignment for several months. In some cases, existing federal and Maryland law permit the military service-member and spouse to early-terminate the lease with only thirty day’s notice and liability. But until now, Maryland’s early-termination grounds were strictly limited.

Under the new law, each of these additional protections are expected to benefit military families.

Routinely, Commanders order soldiers to move into the barracks or military quarters so they can monitor them more closely or to remove them from a dangerous domestic situation. When the service-member is retiring or released from Active Duty, forcing them to remain in the lease is an undue burden when they may need to relocate because the soldier is now a disabled veteran who needs caregiving, they may wish to enroll in college or university using the Post 9/11 GI Bill or to accept employment elsewhere. They may also have difficulties paying the rent if they are involuntarily released from active duty: the military is currently downsizing and many service-members are being discharged despite their desire to remain on active duty. This could result in a situation where they are stuck with a lease they cannot afford because they are suddenly unemployed.

Moreover, sometimes service-members or spouses sign leases but before occupying the premises, their orders are changed forcing them to report to a different geographic duty location, service school or to deploy overseas or serve at sea. In those last-minute cases, service-members and their spouses may no longer need rental housing in Maryland, but they may be trapped in their leases anyway.

With the passage of the new legal protections, Maryland has now adopted similar “military-friendly” lease provisions that Virginia and Pennsylvania previously enacted. Consequently, the new legal protections for service-members and their spouses should ease the concerns they face when they must cope with constantly changing military orders because Maryland law will now permit them to early terminate their residential leases under a wider variety of grounds.

By Yosefi Seltzer, Fort Meade Legal Assistance Attorney

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