By Michele Vowell, Courier assistant editor May 5, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Relocating to a new Army duty station can be tough for any Soldier and his or her Family if they've never lived at that location. Moving to a home off post may pose some challenges for service members without knowledge of the area.
Officials at Fort Campbell's Housing Services Office provide off-post residency guidance to all Soldiers.
"We focus on Soldiers that live off-post -- guiding them to a stress-free move," said Yolanda McDaniel, Housing Services Offices chief. "It's mandatory to in-process and out-process HSO."
Roughly 70 percent of the 30,000 Soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell live off post. Soldiers with Families and single Soldiers (staff sergeant and above) that are authorized to live off post may choose to live in Hopkinsville or Oak Grove in Kentucky or in Clarksville, Tenn.
When Soldiers arrive at Fort Campbell they should stop by the Housing Services Office at 850 Georgia Ave., or call (270) 798-3808 to discuss their options for renting or buying property.
"Ninety-nine percent of them have already [found a place], unfortunately," McDaniel said. "If they haven't [found a home], then we're going to guide them through, based on their rank and their [Basic Allowance for Housing], what they can reasonably afford. … Then, we'll guide them to properties that will fit that need."
Before officially renting a property, Phil Garito, Fort Campbell chief of housing, advises Soldiers to carefully review their lease, which is a contract between the property owner and the service member. The most common leases are for a year, six months, three months and month-to-month.
"If you have a 12-month lease and it says you're going to pay $200 a month rent, the expectation by the landlord is that you will pay $2,400," he said. "If you break that lease at any point in time without a set of orders, then the landlord is expecting to be paid the balance."
McDaniel noted that Soldiers can protect themselves with proper documentation.
"The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects Soldiers that have signed a contract and cannot complete that full contract," she said.
According to the SCRA (Title 50 USC), the Soldier shall be permitted to break a lease early, in the event of a Permanent Change of Station move as defined by the Joint Federal Travel Regulation, or in the case of deployment over 90 days in support of military operations.
"[SCRA] gives them the right based on that law to terminate a lease at any time based on a set of orders," McDaniel said.
Additionally, before signing any lease, McDaniel advises Soldiers to complete a walk-through inspection of the home or apartment and document any damages in writing and with photographs.
"Visit the HSO for guidance," she said. "We can provide you the move-in checklist because we want you to … inspect that property when you move in -- so in 12 months when you get ready to move out, the move will be smoother because now you can compare [documentation]."
Soldiers should provide the landlord with a copy of the inspection and retain a copy for their records. McDaniel noted that many Soldiers fail to document the property damages before they move in and it often costs them when they move out.
Once a lease is reviewed and signed, McDaniel recommends Soldiers retain a copy for their records.
Moving into an off-post residence can be pricey for many Soldiers and Families. Often Soldiers are expected to pay at least one month's rent in advance, as well as hook-up fees for utilities. These are out-of-pocket expenses.
"To move into a one-bedroom apartment off post, you probably need about $2,500," McDaniel said. "Just to move in with the utilities turned on, putting down the deposits and the first month's rent. Utilities alone are like $500 to $600. Those are nonrefundable fees that come out of your pocket. It can be expensive moving in."
Rental Partnership Program
Cash-strapped Soldiers may be eligible for the Housing Services Office's Rental Partnership Program.
The installation has partnered with 28 off-post property managers that will rent a house to a Soldier and his or her Family with reduced or no security deposits, waived first-month rent and no application fees.
"The out-of-pocket [move-in related expense] is reduced drastically," McDaniel said. "We encourage Soldiers to participate. The only requirement is to start an allotment. That is set up through our office to that property manager. You qualify based on the property manager's standards. If they qualify you, we enroll you in the program based on [whether] you are eligible to reside off post, receive a housing allowance and you can set up an allotment … We manage those allotments through our office."
Garito said the Rental Partnership Program is beneficial for both the property owners and qualified Soldiers.
"From a landlord's perspective, the advantage is they don't have to rely on the Soldier giving them a check every month," he said.
"It's a good tool and landlords love it because they get a lump sum payment every month," McDaniel added. "Soldiers love it because they don't have to go and pay the rent."
Some leases have a clause that allows early termination of your lease. To break any lease because of PCS or deployment, Soldiers must present the landlord a formal 30-day written notice and a copy of official military orders or notification, certification or verification from their commanding officer. To leave rental property for any other reason, a 30-day notice is still recommended.
"The notice needs to be in writing not a text message or an email," McDaniel said. "You need to put it in writing and deliver it to that landlord that you're moving out. I can't stress enough that Soldiers need to give their landlords a 30-day written notice."
Before moving out, Soldiers should also conduct a move-out inspection -- documenting damages to the property like when they moved in. A move-out checklist is available from HSO.
"We want to make sure you're present for the move out," McDaniel said. "Take pictures on move in. Take pictures on move out. Ask the landlord for an itemized list of chargeable damages. If they follow those tips, they'll have a successful move out."
If there are any damages assessed, McDaniel advises Soldiers to pay up.
"You need to pay your debt because it follows you from installation to installation," she said. "If you owe a property manager [here], they're not going to rent to you [at the next duty station]."
Any complaints that cannot be resolved between the landlord and the tenant should be reported to the HSO immediately.
Soldiers also need to out-process HSO before leaving Fort Campbell.
For any move, McDaniel stressed that the Housing Services Office is the Soldier's advocate.
"We believe that Soldiers and Families are the most important people entering our facility," she said. "We are here to assist Soldiers and Families with a 'stress-free move.' We can provide answers and support for anyone who is thinking about renting, buying or selling a home. We are your one-stop shop for all your housing needs, and the subject matter expert on the local community and housing. We encourage you to contact your local HSO with any housing related issues."
Editor's note: This is the final article in a three-part series about stress-free moves.