When a military Servicemember receives orders to move or deploy, they don’t want to start the move by having a battle with their landlord. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was designed to remove that stress by requiring landlords to return prepaid rent and security deposits to Servicemembers moving pursuant to valid orders. The law is relatively new, so military and civilian lawyers who represent military families have been waiting to see how the law would be enforced. They got their answer as the Justice Department settled its first lawsuit under the law, forcing the landlord to return the unearned funds to the Servicemember.
On September 24, 2009, the Justice Department announced that it reached a settlement with a Virginia landlord to resolve allegations that she violated the SCRA. This was the first lawsuit filed under the new law. The lawsuit alleged that the landlord failed to return prepaid rent and security deposits to a tenant who had terminated her lease early in order to comply with military orders to relocate from to Georgia. The settlement requires the landlord to pay $5,600 in damages to the Servicemember. It still must be approved by the judge.
“It is because of our men and women in uniform that we, as a nation, are able to enjoy great personal freedoms,” said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “It is therefore our duty, and our privilege, to protect the rights of our Servicemembers, as they protect us.”
The Justice Department’s official press release stated “ the investigation of this matter originated with a referral to the Civil Rights Division from the U.S. Air Force. The Civil Rights Division received enforcement authority under the SCRA in 2006, and has since reviewed numerous allegations of SCRA violations and resolved investigations in the following areas without the need for litigation; the charging of excess interest over the six percent interest rate cap; the repossession of vehicles without court orders; and the foreclosure on home mortgage loans without court orders.”
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office. Office locations may be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php. Additional information on the Justice Department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting Servicemembers is available at www.servicemembers.gov.
Carlos L. McDade, Esq.