July 19, 2018

Senators Unveil Bipartisan Bill to Protect Surviving Military Spouses

Legislation Would Allow Spouses of Deceased Servicemembers to Break Jointly Held Residential Leases Without Penalty

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today introduced the bipartisan Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act. The legislation, which was originally introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), would modify the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to allow a widow or widower of a servicemember who died while in military service (i.e., a Gold Star spouse) to terminate a jointly held residential lease, without penalty, within one year of the servicemember's death.

"All three of my brothers served in the military and I deeply appreciate the sacrifices that servicemembers make for our country.  We owe them-and their families-the very best," said Senator Warren.  "I'm glad to partner with my colleagues on a bipartisan bill to provide grieving widows and widowers with financial relief and peace of mind from residential leases that are no longer necessary following the tragic death of their servicemember spouse."

"A grieving military spouse dealing with the death of their loved one on active duty should be able to end their lease without paying high termination fees," said Senator Portman.  "This bill, with the support of numerous veterans groups and the Department of Defense, is a commonsense fix for Gold Star spouses. I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to join me in supporting this legislation to provide relief for our Gold Star spouses."

"Following the loss of a loved one in the line of duty, the last thing a spouse needs are the burdens of a residential lease," said Senator Fischer. "We must commit to our supporting our Gold Star Families as they grieve. That is why I was proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation."

"Our service members and their families sacrifice so much in service to our country," said Senator Nelson.  "This bill will help provide the spouses of our fallen service members the freedom and flexibility they need to do what's best for their families."

"This common-sense bill recognizes that spouses and families sacrifice alongside their service members. In turn, they deserve not only our respect and support, but also our enduring commitment to their well-being if their loved one, God forbid, loses their life in the line of duty. We can never repay the sacrifice these Gold Star families make on behalf of our country, but we can take steps like this one to stop others from taking advantage of them in the most vulnerable time of their lives," said Senator Doug Jones.

"We can never truly repay the debt to our fallen heroes," said Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. "When I heard the story about a landlord who refused to allow a young war widow to exit her lease in the immediate aftermath of her husband's death, I was outraged. Gold Star families have sacrificed more than we can ever truly understand and, if they want to move closer to their family after losing a spouse in service to our nation, they should be able to make that decision without worrying about financial consequences. That's why I introduced the bipartisan Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act and I want to thank Senator Warren for leading the effort in the Senate to pass this important bill."

When a servicemember receives military orders, his or her spouse is often required to relocate and then sign a lease for a house, apartment, or other dwelling. But when the servicemember dies during military service, the surviving spouse may be forced to pay off the remainder of that residential lease even though the couple only entered into that contract to accommodate the servicemember's assignment. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), active duty servicemembers may cancel agreements such as home or apartment rental contracts when they are deployed or relocated. However, these protections do not explicitly apply to Gold Star spouses who are in these agreements jointly with a servicemember who died while in military service. 

The Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act is also supported by The American Legion, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), and the National Military Family Association (NMFA). 

"Gold Star families should not be forcibly bound to lease agreements made before the loss of their loved one. This bill affords every Gold Star family the decency of the financial protections that their servicemember earned," said Denise H. Rohan, National Commander of The American Legion.

"Surviving spouses should not be made to pay extra rent or fees to end their lease after the active duty death of their loved one. We applaud Senator Warren for providing a remedy for the undue burden during a time of grief," said Bonnie Carroll, President and Founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).