Orders are being cut and re-cut; pack-outs are being scheduled, boxes loaded onto trucks and military families worldwide are moving on to their next assignments.
Everyone knows how grueling and costly the permanent change of station process is, so I won’t waste your time being a broken record.
I want to talk about the other side of the military move, the part where you expect to get your full security deposit back when you hit the road and you end up with nada.
You paid your rent on time every month, followed all the rules, did everything you were supposed to do, but at the end of the day, once you are out of the area, you find out you aren’t going to see a penny of your deposit ever again.
I can’t tell you how many of my friends have been royally screwed by landlords. I mean these are good, upstanding — many high ranking — members of our armed services. Granted I know not every renter is a saint, but most are.
The obvious solution to some is to live on post, but not everyone wants to — or can. Some families are too large and some families are restricted due to pets. Some posts don’t have enough housing for everyone, either. Aside from single, unmarried staff sergeants and below, service members get to choose where they live.
Once upon a time when I was a newly-married military spouse living in Hawaii, the wait list to live on post was six months, so we did what most people do and rented a home. This was the first time either of us had ever rented, so yes, we were very naive. We rented directly through the homeowner, which I will never do again, and over the next almost four years had a great relationship with her.
Everything was pineapples and rainbows until we moved out. I followed all the rules and directions pertaining to her clean out specifications. We gave her receipts for the carpet cleaning, window and screen cleaning, house cleaning ... You name it, we had a receipt for it.
We even went so far as to tell her that we would be on the island for the next few days should something not be to her standard. She smiled, walked through the house with us, hugged us, signed off and said everything was great.
Give the lady an Academy Award and give us a smack on the back of the head.
She kept our entire deposit. I’m talking $2,500. The very money we would use to secure our next home. Once we were an ocean away, she called to say the house was left a mess, the carpets were ruined and she was doing us a favor by only keeping the deposit and not coming after us for more.
I was sick and stunned.
I also had no proof. I didn’t have any photos. We went to the judge advocate general at our new post and, as soon as they saw the expressions on our faces, they knew why we were there. They said it was going to be her word versus ours and, since we weren’t in the financial position to take her to court — i.e. we would have to fly back to Hawaii — we were dead in the water.
We learned a very expensive lesson that day: Trust no one!
Take photos — heck, take a video — during your initial move-in walk through and do the same when you move out. When you are signing leases, take your time. If you don’t understand something, ask! Document everything and always get everything in writing.
Even when you dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’, there are just some bad landlords out there and they, too, are at the mercy of property management companies. What’s even more upsetting is there are probably hundreds of families going through PCS hell right now, I know a handful personally, and there is nothing anyone can do for them aside from attempting to take their homeowner to small claims court; and we all know with this lifestyle, it’s not possible. Since laws vary from state to state, what we military families need is some legislation to protect us from people who take advantage of the fact that we can’t fight back.
Our loved ones fight to keep our nation free, can’t someone help military families move with peace of mind?
Vanessa Lynch is a military spouse, mom and a former metro editor for the Killeen Daily Herald.