Large organizations and institutions often know about verifying military service before pursuing court actions against clients. But many individuals who deal with servicemembers can face penalties for noncompliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act as well. Landlords, in particular, need to understand their rights and responsibilities under the act, as well as the importance of regularly verifying military service status.
In one Michigan case, a landlord removed his tenants’ belongings and locked them out for nonpayment of rent. However, one of the occupants was on active duty with the Army.
The landlord did not check the tenants’ military status and didn’t get a court order, as the law requires.
He ended up pleading guilty to a class A misdemeanor for violating the SCRA. Then the court sentenced him to six months in prison, one year of supervised relief, a fine of $1,000 and a restitution payment of $15,300.28.
This penalty may seem stiff, but it is in keeping with the general interpretation of the SCRA. The Department of Justice has been enforcing the SCRA with increasing aggressiveness in recent years. This is due, in part, to predatory lending practices targeting servicemembers.
Courts may settle many SCRA enforcement actions with financial penalties. But this case demonstrates that courts are willing to apply the criminal aspect of the law in certain cases.
SCRA Eviction Law
According to the Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, a landlord cannot evict a servicemember or their dependents without a court order if:
- The premises are the primary residence of the servicemember or dependents.
- The monthly rent is below $3,851 (as of 2019).
Landlords who want to evict servicemembers with SCRA protections must start by verifying military service. If the servicemember’s ability to pay the agreed rent is materially affected by his or her service, the court may do one of two things.
First, the court may halt the eviction proceedings for 90 days. However, the court sometimes imposes longer or shorter periods.
Another option they may exercise is to adjust the obligation under the lease to preserve the interests of all parties.
Anyone who knowingly takes part in — or even attempts to take part in — an eviction or distress of property rented by a servicemember or dependent protected under the SCRA without first verifying military service and obtaining a court order can face fines or imprisonment or both.
Help with Verifying Military Service
Courts take seriously the eviction protections granted to servicemembers under the SCRA. If you are a landlord who deals with servicemembers, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service can help you comply with this important law. It only takes 3-5 minutes to place an order, is economical, and even provides a notarized affidavit for court.