By BRIAN EVANS
Fort Knox Legal Assistance Office
Renting a place to live while you are stationed at Fort Knox can seem easy enough at the beginning. But remember that renting can have its own potential problems. This article will provide you with some tips in signing a lease, moving in 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-Jefferson County, have not adopted the Kentucky version of the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. This means that if you do not live in Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky law gives you virtually no rights as a tenant unless they are specified in a written lease.
For example, Kentucky common law does not require the landlord to make repairs if something needs to be fixed. The only way you can require this is for it to be written into the lease.
Therefore, make sure you have a written agreement between you and the landlord, and make sure you read the entire agreement. It will dictate most of your rights, obligations, and duties for as long as you live in that residence.
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 for violating the law, ignorance of your lease is no excuse for failing to meet an obligation under it. It is a contract and it is binding. If you want an attorney to go over a lease with you before you sign it, the Legal Assistance Office provides walk-in reviews of unsigned leases daily at 3 p.m.
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 outlining what other situations might warrant early termination. These additional terms regarding terminating a lease for military reasons are often known as “military clauses.” The Legal Assistance Office has a form military clause available for pick-up during regular office hours.
Many leases state that you accept the premises as you find them. Also, 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 a great way to protect yourself at the beginning of your lease.
You should go through the entire premises thoroughly and write down anything that looks damaged or is not functioning properly. For example, turn on and off all appliances and lights to insure they work. Check heating, air conditioning and water to insure all work well.
The best way to document most damage is to write it down on an inspection sheet, 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 that your landlord should provide. Keep a copy for your records.
Terminating the lease and moving out
As discussed in a previous article, the SCRA permits termination of leases if the servicemember receives PCS orders or orders in support of a military operation for not less than 90 days. 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 servicemember’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 Section 305 of the SCRA does not apply and you wish to terminate your lease in a timely manner, make sure and follow some important rules:
* 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 suffer additional claims beyond the security deposit.
* Do a written walk-through at the end of the lease with the landlord. If the two of you can agree on a single list of damages, that is fine; if the two of you cannot agree, then keep your own separate list so that you have your own notes to back you up. If you anticipate problems at the walk-through, it may also be helpful for you to have a neutral third party there in case you need help proving your case later.
For questions regarding landlord-tenant issues, contact the Fort Knox Legal Assistance Office at (502) 624-2771 to schedule an appointment.