As a service member, you face all kinds of challenges when looking for a place to live in a new town every few years. From long-distance home searches to short-notice assignment changes, anything can happen when you’re trying to settle at your new duty station. Whether you’re a single service member looking for a studio apartment or a family of five with two dogs and a cat, here are six tips for finding the right rental home for you and making your military move as smooth as possible.
1. Start Looking Early
It’s common for military families to start planning their moves months ahead of the actual date. Thanks to online multiple listing services, you can search available homes around your next station. Even if it’s still too early to sign a contract, you’ll get a good idea of the type of homes available and the average cost of rent per month. If you can find a house or apartment where the rent and average utilities cost less than your basic housing allowance, then you may even pocket some cash each month.
2. Endear Yourself to Potential Landlords
Military towns are rife with competition for rental homes. If you find a house you love, don’t be afraid to contact the owner or property manager and tell them why they should consider your rental application. Maybe you’ve already used your VA home loan to purchase a house in a different state, so you know how hard it is to maintain a rental home. Therefore, you’ll be the kind of renter who takes care of someone else’s property. Beyond your credit score and rental history, these are the kind of details proprietors want to know about you.
3. Always Sign a Lease
A no-lease apartment may seem like a cool and casual arrangement but beware of any property owner who asks for cash payments on a month-to-month basis with no tenancy contract prior to move-in. Your lease protects you from sudden rent increases and unlawful eviction.
4. Research Occupancy Standards
Sometimes, service members prefer to rent a room in someone’s home or get a group of people together to live in a dwelling and split the rent. For your own safety, just make sure the number of people living in the home does not exceed occupancy limits set by the state. Additionally, check to make sure the area of the home in which you’ll reside has an exit to the outside, in case of emergency. Many basement or attic apartments are not considered safe dwellings because they lack exterior doors or windows.
5. Understand Your Lease and Your Rights
As a military member, you may have to leave a duty station earlier than expected at the time of signing a lease. Generally, a tenant who breaks a lease by moving out early forfeits the security deposit and may be liable for future rent. For this reason, you should know and understand your rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). In addition, you should always insist on adding a military clause to the tenant contract before signing. If the owner doesn’t agree, be prepared to walk away from the deal. If you find yourself in a dispute over rent because of military orders, your installation’s legal office may be able to help.
6. Get a Renter’s Policy
Homeowners need insurance to protect their property in case of theft or damage, but your landlord’s policy doesn’t extend to your belongings. Therefore, as a tenant, you need renter’s insurance. Even if you don’t own many high-value items, just think about how much it would cost to replace all of your clothing, furniture and household goods after a fire or flood. If you weigh those costs against the price of a renter’s policy, roughly 200 dollars per year, it’s a no-brainer.
As a service member, it’s your duty to serve and protect others, but don’t forget to protect yourself, your family and your interests when navigating the rental market around your next military installation.