The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. Ann. § 3955, affords certain protections and rights to tenant-servicemembers with regard to lease agreements. Landlords typically have a working knowledge of these rights as they relate to the tenant-servicemember, but questions often arise with leases that contain an additional tenant or tenants and how the tenant-servicemember’s termination of his/her lease under the SCRA affects the co-tenants.
Pursuant to the SCRA, a tenant-servicemember’s ability to terminate the lease early extends to the servicemember’s spouse, children, and dependents, thereby allowing those co-tenants to terminate the lease early so long as proper notice is provided. Additional details on the notice requirement can be found here. If the co-tenant is the servicemember’s spouse, child, or other dependent for whom the servicemember provided more than half of the individual’s support for 180 days immediately preceding the notice to terminate, then the lease will terminate as to that individual as well as to the servicemember.
If the co-tenant is simply the servicemember’s friend, acquaintance, fiancé, or otherwise doesn’t qualify as the spouse, child, or dependent of the servicemember, then the co-tenant(s) remains responsible under the lease and the lease does not terminate as to that individual when it terminates as to the servicemember. Under Virginia law, all tenants on a lease are joint and severally liable for the payment of rent. Therefore, the lawful termination under the SCRA of the lease by the tenant-servicemember and his/her spouse, child, or other dependent causes the remaining co-tenant(s) to remain liable for all obligations under the lease.
Should the remaining tenant(s) fail to pay rent timely and in full pursuant to the lease, then the landlord may proceed with an unlawful detainer action against the remaining tenant(s), not the former tenant-servicemember. Due to the joint and several liability recognized in Virginia, Virginia law does not recognize a defense to the nonpayment of rent for remaining tenants where they have lost the financial support of the tenant- servicemember. Nevertheless, if a landlord is concerned with its ability to collect rent from the remaining co-tenant(s), then the landlord may make the business decision to offer the remaining co-tenant(s) the ability to transfer to a smaller, less expensive apartment unit or allow the remaining tenant(s) to add a new roommate to the lease, so long as the new roommate applies and is approved as with any other applicant.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your responsibilities under the SCRA as a landlord or questions concerning any other landlord-tenant matters in Virginia, D.C., or Maryland, please contact Crystal Kramer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240.507.1727.
ABOUT CRYSTAL KRAMER
Crystal Kramer’s practice is focused on the representation of landlords and property managers of residential and commercial real estate in Virginia. This representation includes Fair Housing disputes and all litigation associated with lease disputes, including breach of lease, unlawful detainer actions, and tenant’s assertion actions.
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