By Legal Assistance OfficeSeptember 7, 2010
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Many people are unaware they may terminate cell phone contracts if deploying or permanently changing station' Under Section 535a of the Service Members Civil Relief Act, servicemembers may be able to terminate or suspend cell phone contracts if deploying overseas or PCS to another continental U.S. location.
There are qualifications personnel must meet to take advantage of this law. They must be deploying overseas for at least 90 days, and their ability to use or pay for the cell phone must be "materially affected." This means the cell phone won't work where they're going or they are prohibited from using a cell phone by the Army or other military service.
Other criteria are you can no longer afford to pay the terms of the cell phone contract due to deployment or PCS. Those who qualify must make a written request to the cell phone company and send them a copy of PCS or deployment orders. If military deploy outside CONUS, the cell phone company must cancel the contract or suspend it at no charge until the servicemember returns to the U.S.
In either case, the cell phone company cannot charge a termination fee. The cell phone company must cancel the contract of those with a CONUS PCS who meet the "materially affected" requirements. Because this is a recently enacted law, many cell phone companies are not familiar with it.
Servicemembers may also terminate residential leases when they deploy or PCS. Under Section 535 of the Service Members Civil Relief Act, they may be able to terminate residential leases if deploying for 90 days or more or upon PCS. Some leases have language that tries to circumvent the SCRA by stating military must live in the rental for a certain amount of time before they can break the lease for a PCS or deployment.
Those with a lease agreement that has a SCRA waiver clause may still be protected, as the SCRA requires all waivers of its residential lease provisions to be in a separate document from the residential lease. The SCRA also applies to joint leases, so a landlord must release family members from the lease as well.
The SCRA, however, does not allow servicemembers to break a lease solely for the purpose of moving into military housing. Some leases include language allowing a Soldier to break a lease if moving into military housing, but if this language is not in the lease, the lease cannot be broken for that reason. Before running out and telling a landlord you're moving, remember there are requirements and obligations associated with this new rule.
First, servicemembers must provide their landlord or agent with written notice as well as a copy of their orders. Once the landlord receives notice, military members still have to pay rent for the current month and the next 30 days.
The SCRA is a powerful law designed to assist servicemembers who are sacrificing to serve the United States. Certain violations of these lease termination provisions are punishable by fines and/or jail time.
Those with questions or who want to take advantage of this legal right should contact the Staff Judge Advocate Legal Assistance Office on Fort Huachuca, 533-2009.