SCRA Protections for Foreign Service – Car Leases and Phone Contracts

President Joe Biden has signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law which, at Section 6207, extended to certain members of the Foreign Service some protections found in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  

Members of the Foreign Service are not military personnel; rather, they are employees of the State Department. They may be posted to other countries on short notice (just like servicemembers) which might require terminations of leases and similar situations. In recognition of these public servants’ valuable service, the law extends to them certain SCRA privileges, such as the ability to terminate residential and motor vehicle leases and telephone contracts on short notice without penalty.

Specifically, the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (as opposed to the SCRA) was amended to add the protection at 22 U.S.C. 4087 (at the time this article was published, the new section was not yet available only, but here is a copy of the actual legislation).

If you have entered into any such contract with a member of the Foreign Service, you must uphold the provisions of the SCRA (and, now, the Foreign Service Act) or risk fines and penalties. Many landlords, vendors, and others familiar with the SCRA make effort to learn of each new customer’s military status in order to ensure they are adhering properly to the SCRA. To do so as a matter of course as each new client comes on board is more efficient and thorough than waiting for trouble to arise and then attempting to find out about military status before filing a court action. Not only is it unwise to conduct business this way, but it costs you money since you must delay taking court action until you secure military status verification.

However, with the new law pertaining to Foreign Service officers in effect, many vehicle lessors and telephone equipment and service vendors are left to retroactively attempt to discover if their clients or tenants are members of the Foreign Service.  

Unfortunately, the question remains as to how anyone is able to verify if a particular foreign service employee is covered under this recent change. The DMDC may (or may not) include those employees when responding to inquiries. The U.S. State Department may have a way to respond to inquiries. The SCRACVS has written to both entities about the verification process and will update this article when more information is known. In the meantime, SCRACVS verifications do not include SCRA protections conferred upon Foreign Service personnel (because there is currently no way to check).

As you move forward with the business, we recommend you include documentation in contracts, leases, and other legal paperwork inquiring as to whether the client is a member of the Foreign Service. If you must bring court action against a vehicle lessee or telephone service contract client, ask them if they are a member of the Foreign Service, and if they claim they are, ask for documentation. It is cheaper and safer to be diligent rather than risk the wrath of the Department of Justice if you make a mistake.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.