By Capt. Leigh Leduc | Fort Knox Legal Assistance OfficeJune 3, 2019
Renting a place to live while you are stationed at Fort Knox may seem easy enough, but remember that renting, just like purchasing property, can come with risks.
The following are some tips on signing a lease, moving in to your new residence, and moving out at the end of the lease.
--What to know before you sign--
The cities and counties surrounding Fort Knox, with the exception of Louisville and Jefferson counties, have not adopted the Kentucky version of the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, or URLTA. This means that if you do not live in one of those two counties, Kentucky law gives you virtually no rights as a tenant besides those specified in the lease. However, even in Jefferson County, the ability of tenants to break leases without suffering penalties under the lease can sometimes be limited.
For example, you may be surprised to learn that Kentucky common law does not require the landlord to make repairs if something needs to be fixed; it needs to be written into the lease. On the other hand, in Jefferson County, the landlord has a duty to ensure the housing complies with code "materially affecting health and safety." The Kentucky URLTA also specifies that the landlord must provide running water and maintain in "good and safe" condition electrical, plumbing, heating/cooling and ventilation. As you can see, this law only covers the basic necessities of housing.
Regardless of where you are looking to rent, the rental agreement is critically important to protect tenants. Make sure you have a written agreement between you and the landlord, and always read the entire agreement.
Even if you do not read the lease, it will still affect your rights and responsibilities. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse if you get arrested, ignorance of your lease is no excuse for failing to meet an obligation under it. It is a binding legal document once signed. If you want an attorney to go over a lease with you before you sign it, the Legal Assistance Office at Fort Knox can review those documents for eligible individuals.
Additionally, you might want to add language to the lease. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act may provide some protection regarding ending a lease early, but it does not cover every situation in which a Soldier might need to terminate a lease: e.g., extended TDY or availability of on-post housing. Therefore, you might request that the landlord allow additional terms in the lease regarding early termination, called "military clauses." However, these clauses can only add to, not subtract from, the protections of the SCRA.
Many leases state that you accept the premises as you find them. Noting the condition of the property before you take possession will keep the landlord from claiming that pre-existing damage was your fault. Conducting a thorough walk-through before you accept possession is the best way to protect yourself from surprise fees.
You should go through the entire residence thoroughly and write down anything that looks damaged or is not functioning properly. For example, turn on and off all appliances and lights. Check the heating, air conditioning and water. Document any issues on the inspection sheet a landlord should provide, then take pictures with a camera that will put a time stamp on the picture itself, print the pictures and attach them to the inspection sheet. Save a copy for later.
--Terminating the lease and moving out--
The SCRA permits termination of leases if the service member receives PCS orders or deployment orders in support of a military operation for 90 days or more. To invoke this protection, written notice must be provided along with a copy of the military member's orders. If orders are not yet available, a letter from the service member's commander verifying the military member's current or future military status is acceptable. Termination is effective 30 days after the next rental payment is due.
If the SCRA does not apply and you wish to terminate your lease, here are some helpful tips:
• Advise the landlord in writing of your decision. Besides being good practice, many leases contain requirements that written notice be provided by a certain date or the lease automatically renews, you have to pay damages, or both.
• Read the lease to understand what the landlord requires upon move-out. Failure to comply with those requirements could mean that you lose some or all of your security deposit, or incur additional fees.
• Do a written walk-through at the end of the lease with the landlord. If the two of you cannot agree on what the damages are, keep your own separate list and take clear photographs of the condition of the property.
If you have any questions regarding landlord-tenant issues, contact the Fort Knox Legal Assistance Office at (502) 624-2771 to schedule an appointment.