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Sen. Warren introduces bill to make it easier for service members to terminate their leases

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 16, 2020

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said she will introduce a bill Wednesday alongside a bipartisan group of senators that aims to make it easier for service members to terminate residential and car leases as the coronavirus pandemic has put a tight squeeze on renters across the country.

The Modernizing Notice of Lease Terminations for Servicemembers Act would allow active duty, reservists and National Guard troops to break leases electronically, including by email, if they are deployed, reassigned to a new base, or sent to a long training event.

“Our service members and their families make incredible sacrifices to keep our country safe, so we should take every opportunity to make it easier for them to manage major financial transactions like residential and car leases,” Warren said in a statement.

Troops who are called to duty for at least 90 days are allowed to break leases under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which was passed in 2003 before the internet became a primary means of communicating. However, service members technically have to deliver written notices that they intend to break a lease and the law does not explicitly permit electronic notification.

Beyond the pandemic, not allowing service members to end their leases early due to sudden military orders could put a burden on some troops deploying overseas or to training events where mail service isn’t easily available. It could also be difficult on families who have to move to a new base on short notice.

“This is especially important for military families who must move homes regularly, and as we’ve learned from the ongoing [coronavirus] pandemic, the flexibility of using e-documents instead of paper saves time, money, and allows for socially distant transactions," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a cosponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

Nothing else would change in the SCRA under Warren’s measure. Under the law, service members still have to pay the following month’s rent if they terminate the lease. For example, if a soldier terminates their lease on Sept. 18, they still owe rent on Oct. 1 and the lease is suspended Oct. 31. If a service member pays month-to-month, the lease is ended 30 days after the landlord was noticed. If a service member is killed on duty, the spouse can terminate the lease within one year of the death.

The measure is also backed by Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Boozman, R-Ark., and Jack Reed, D-R.I.

beynon.steven@stripes.com
Twitter: @stevenbeynon

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