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NEWS | June 13, 2017

Does a security deposit include a maid and butler?

By Rose Shimp 628th Air Base Wing legal office volunteer

For many service men and women the inevitable permanent change of station move can be a frustrating and tedious crusade, filled with piles of moving boxes, random scraps of masking tape and the smell of bleach.

 

Before leaving, you take a last look around your apartment. The feeling of relief drains any energy left to inquire about the hefty security deposit you so eagerly handed over a few months ago. It is a tale as old as time.

 

Many military members aren't sure what rights they have when terminating a lease. Maybe it's the feeling of guilt for the proverbial, little old landlord or perhaps it’s the surrender to indifference, but too many tenants relinquish hundreds and thousands of dollars every year in security deposits because they don’t know their rights.

 

You search and search for the perfect apartment, with the required amenities: close to downtown, a state of the art gym, a pool and coffee each morning in the lobby. You determine, this time it's going to be different. While handing over a deposit large enough to hire a butler for a month, you know you will get it back. 

 

The first and most vital protective measure you should complete the moment you step into your new home is to take pictures of its condition. Document the condition of your new place; the windows, appliances, carpet and doors. Damages are one of the main reasons a tenant will be denied their deposit at the end of their lease. Now enjoy those fire pits around the infinity pool until it's time to move again.

 

Whether you're PCSing or being deployed in excess of 90 days while on active duty. It's that time again. Remember, even though you may be terminating your lease early, your roommate(s) will continue to be responsible for their lease agreement. 

 

As boxes, packing materials and masking tape arrive, pause and remember to include the crucial step in reclaiming your security deposit. Arrange a walk thru with the landlord before getting too overwhelmed and behind on time. Landlords should offer suggestions and information as to repairs and damages ahead of time. This is the opportune time to hand over a forwarding address as well, so your landlord will know where to send your deposit. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for you to maintain electronic documentation of your communication with the landlord. You’ll feel good and those boxes won't seem as heavy...okay they are still heavy, but it will be worth it.

 

In the event the change of station is being ordered before the lease is up, you may be covered under Title III of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA), whether you are renting an apartment or house. To invoke the protection of this law, a strict process must be followed:

Provide the landlord with at least 30 days’ notice of the move and a copy of your military orders (oftentimes a CC's letter will suffice). 

 

Be sure to keep documenting, this will be beneficial should there be a discrepancy later.

 

As a military service member, you're protected from violating a lease for early termination. Once you provide notice to the landlord the lease will typically be terminated 30 days following the next date rent is due. For example, if rent is due on the 1st of October and notice is provided October 15th, the lease will terminate November 30th.  

 

While the law varies from state to state, nearly every state requires a refundable security deposit to be returned within a certain timeframe. Pursuant to SECTION 27-40-410, in South Carolina, the landlord has 30 days to return any prepaid rent and security deposits minus any deductions for damages for which the tenant is liable. If a landlord fails to return any security/rental deposit the tenant may recover an amount equal or up to three times the amount wrongfully withheld and reasonable attorney’s fees.

 

The U.S. Department of Justice Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative offers support and enforces the laws protecting the rights of military men and women. To file a SCRA claim visit www.servicemembers.gov and select the question/complaint form link at the bottom of the page. You can provide contact information and briefly describe the nature of the claim. Your claim will be reviewed by attorneys who will then contact you within a week to advise you.