Terrorist Attacks Raise Questions
and Stir Fears About Housing, Safety
Robert S. Griswold | Steven R. Kellman | Ted Smith
This column on issues confronting renters and landlords is written
by Counselor of Real Estate and
Certified Property Manager Robert Griswold, host of Real
Estate Today! with Robert Griswold (10 a.m.
Saturdays on AM1130 - KSDO radio, or on the Internet
and by attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the
Tenants' Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a law
firm representing landlords.
QUESTION: My husband's a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton. We
signed an apartment lease in June for a 12-month term. There is no
military clause. If he is deployed to the Middle East, is there a law
that allows us to terminate the lease with no further legal
ANSWER: Smith: Landlords, as with all Americans, appreciate
your husband's commitment to the protection of the country. The
Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 is going to protect
military members under these circumstances, but only to a certain
If you are going to remain in the apartment while your husband is
deployed, you need to continue to pay the rent. The base will be of
assistance to make special allotments to keep the rent current.
If for some reason you fail to pay rent, the landlord could
initiate eviction proceedings against you in court. However, the act
will stop the landlord in his tracks before he attempts to initiate a
default judgment while your husband is deployed.
It was designed to protect people who are in the process of
protecting the country from a civil judgment of this kind. Still, the
commanding officer will understand the landlord's need to have rent
paid and hopefully make arrangements to satisfy the debt.
By the way, his deployment does not give you the right to terminate
the lease. Your lease apparently does not contain a military clause.
In the future, it's a good idea to negotiate for a military clause in
your lease which would grant you the right to terminate upon a
permanent change in duty station or deployment.
Kellman: The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act is
helpful to our military service members in certain cases only. Among
other protections, this act can help to break leases for tenants or
temporarily suspend eviction proceedings. The lease termination
protection only applies to service members and reservists who are
called to active duty after they had commenced their tenancies.
The law assumes that active duty personnel would handle the
possibility of being ordered to other locations for military service
when negotiating their leases. A qualifying service member must follow
certain notice procedures to properly break a lease.
There is also a part of this law that may freeze an eviction for up
to three months. For this "eviction freeze" protection, the
service member must show that his/her military duties have materially
affected the ability to pay the rent and that the rent does not exceed
$1,200 a month.
Therefore, if your lease was signed while your husband was on
active duty, this law will probably not help you to break the lease.
You can certainly negotiate with the landlord for an early termination
of the lease including offering your cooperation with showing it to
I'm a tenant under a residential lease entered into in Southern
California. My apartment is in a high-profile area next to government
and business buildings in the downtown area. A friend in law
enforcement informs me that I am in a high-risk area for terrorist
I am severely depressed and concerned for my safety because of the
World Trade Center attacks. Based on this, do I have a legal right to
break my lease with no further responsibility?
Smith: The terrorist attacks have given concern to all
Americans, and I respect your emotional distress and concerns. At this
point, however, I'm afraid that you will not be able to walk away from
your lease, claiming there is a potential for future harm. All of us
are at risk.
Although you have the right to vacate, it is unlikely that the
court will agree that you are released from further rental
responsibilities. The landlord is obligated to find a qualified
replacement resident to take over the rent, but under these
circumstances you will be responsible for the rental value of the
property until such time as the premises are successfully re-leased.
Kellman: The impact of the terrorist's criminal actions
affects us all. We feel pain in many ways and are asked to share in
the burden and costs of such horrific and unthinkable conduct. This is
a very difficult situation to be faced by both landlords and tenants.
Clearly, these risks created by the terrorists are not your
landlord's fault. Although you feel unsafe in your current location,
the law will generally not allow you to break a lease unless the
landlord breaks the contract with his/her actions or if there is an
unreasonable risk of harm to you caused by the landlord.
We all share in the risks faced today and hopefully we are not
paralyzed by the fear they generate. Certainly, you may move and that
is your choice. If you do so without legal justification, however, the
landlord may seek to hold you responsible for the rent until it is
re-rented. Hopefully, you can work through your understandable
feelings and perhaps choose to remain in the unit. Every time we stand
up to fear and insist that we do not disrupt our lives, we would have
won another battle in this most serious conflict.
There are three people renting an apartment and all names are on
the lease. One of the three roommates (Roommate #3) decides to move
out nine months into a 12-month lease. Roommate #3 gives a 30-day
notice to the other roommates. Another roommate is found temporarily
to help pay rent, bills, etc. until someone permanent can be found.
Does roommate #3 have any rights to a portion of the deposit?
Griswold: The deposit runs with the rental unit. Whether
roommate #3 receives any portion of the security deposit back right
now is a function of the agreement between the original three
roommates. Often the new roommate will be asked to pay a portion of
the security deposit to the departing roommate.
This is legal and up to the roommates with input required from the
landlord. Of course, the incoming roommate should be very careful to
thoroughly inspect the premises as he becomes liable for any damage
that the landlord identifies at the time of lease termination. The
landlord is only required to account for and/or refund the security
deposit at the termination of the lease and then by sending the
accounting/refund to all three original lessees, unless the landlord
agrees to substitute the new roommate on the lease. Thus, the new
roommate wants to make sure that the landlord acknowledges in writing
that he is a tenant of record and entitled to any return of the
YOU'RE A TENANT OR LANDLORD, the authors stand ready to
answer your questions in this column, although letters
cannot be answered individually. Write them at: Rental
Roundtable, Homes Section, San Diego Union-Tribune, P.O.
Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191. Or you may e-mail
them at email@example.com
2001 Rental Roundtable
Robert Griswold and the Real Estate
Today! radio show strongly support the intent and the letter of all federal and
state fair housing laws. As a reminder to all owners and managers of real
estate, note that all real estate advertised is subject to the Federal Fair
Housing Act, which makes it illegal to advertise "any preference,
limitation, discrimination because of race, color, national origin or ancestry, religion, sex,
physical disability, or familial status, or intention to make any such
preference, limitation or discrimination." Additional state and/or local
fair housing laws may also apply. Be sure to inform all persons that all
dwellings offered or advertised are on an equal opportunity basis.
Revised and Updated -
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Robert S. Griswold, CRE, CPM, CCIM,
PCAM, GRI, ARM
Griswold Corporate Center
Griswold Real Estate Management, Inc.
5703 Oberlin Drive, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92121-1743
Phone: (858) 597-6100
Fax: (858) 597-6161
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