Filing storage liens is, unfortunately, a big part of the job for an owner or manager of a self-storage facility. As much as clients may want to pay their bills, they sometimes don’t. And in many jurisdictions, your only recourse is to file a storage lien.
But when your clients are servicemembers, the rules change. Active-duty servicemembers are protected against certain court actions. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act prevents creditors from starting collection proceedings without a court order.
The intention of the SCRA is to allow servicemembers to focus on protecting and serving their country without the worry of paying bills back home. Therefore, creditors must follow certain channels in order to recoup their losses.
Failure to follow the rules under the SCRA can result in penalties, heavy fines or even imprisonment. It’s often helpful to attempt to contact a servicemember’s superior officer before pursuing other legal avenues; however, there are ways to enforce a lien when necessary.
Verify Military Status Before Pursuing Storage Lien
The first and most important thing to do before filing a storage lien against a servicemember is to verify military status. You must know before proceeding if the defendant is on active duty. If they are not, you are free to proceed normally. If they are, you must follow a different path.
Either way, you must bring proof to court that you have checked the plaintiff’s military status.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service can help you with this military status check, even if you don’t have your client’s Social Security number. We will provide you with the proper documentation you need to move forward with your case.
Going to Court for a Storage Lien
The SCRA says lienholders may not attempt to foreclose on or otherwise enforce the lien as long as the servicemember is on active duty and for 90 days thereafter without first obtaining a court order.
The court must then decide whether to pursue a stay of proceedings. If the court determines that the servicemember’s ability to pay the money they owe you is not materially affected by their military status, you will be free to pursue the lien normally. If it is determined that the servicemember’s active military status does have a material effect, one of two things will occur.
- The court may decide to enact a stay of proceedings. After this period, you will be free to pursue the storage lien if you don’t receive payment.
- The court may adjust the obligation, which may result in you getting less than you’re owed.
Penalties for Noncompliance with the SCRA
Should you fail to comply with the SCRA, the penalties can be severe. You can face misdemeanor charges resulting in a fine, imprisonment or both. This comes in addition to other remedies, such as having to pay consequential or punitive damages.
The government often strictly enforces these harsh penalties. For this reason, those in the self-storage business who come into contact with servicemembers must regularly check military status for their clients before pursuing storage liens.