Most landlords eventually have to deal with it: evictions. This can be one of the most stressful situations an owner or property manager has to deal with. However, if the tenant is an active-duty member of the military, an additional set of rules apply.
Military members are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA. The law, enacted in 2003, provides a variety of protections, including allowing active-duty military members to terminate a lease if they are deployed or sent to another military base.
Other components of the law apply directly to evictions. A key provision states that service members cannot be evicted, nor their personal property taken to satisfy a debt, without a court order.
Military wife and lawyer Elizabeth Tomlin, J.D., stated in a previous blog post that the law is aimed at protecting both service members and landlords.
“At first glance, this may seem like the SCRA gives service members permission to stop paying rent without penalty, but this is not the case. The SCRA merely requires the landlord to obtain permission from the court before evicting a service member,” Tomlin states.
Throughout the process, the tenant is required to receive written notice of the looming eviction and gets a chance to explain his or her side of the story to the judge, she writes.
“In some cases, this notice may be the first time the tenant learns that there is a problem. For example, if the service member is deployed and relying on someone else to mail the rent check, he may not know that the rent has not been paid until receiving notice from the landlord. Also, if the landlord has no good reason to evict the service member, the formal proceeding gives the service member the chance to show a judge why an eviction would be wrong,” she states.
It allows courts to postpone the eviction of an active-duty military member’s spouse, children or other dependents if military service affects the family’s ability to pay rent.
For example, if a tenant was deployed and his or her absence made it difficult for the remaining spouse to continue paying the rent and the family is facing eviction, the court could choose to postpone or delay eviction for up to three months — or less or more — if the judge determines it’s warranted. The court could also rule that an eviction should proceed, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. If it is determined that there is a debt owed, the landlord can seek allotments from the tenant’s pay to satisfy it.
The SCRA protection only applies if the deployment is longer than 90 days and the rent must be below a certain limit. The limit is adjusted yearly to match changes in the consumer price index.
If the matter proceeds to court and the tenants don’t appear, a landlord can request a default judgment granting eviction. The SCRA requires the court to ask the landlord to file an affidavit proving that the tenant is active-duty military or, if unavailable, a statement that the plaintiff was unable to determine the tenant’s military status.
A certificate can be obtained for free from the official SCRA site: https://scra.dmdc.osd.mil, although the landlord would need the tenant’s social security number to obtain the certificate.
Under the law, the court can decide that late payment penalties may not be enforceable.
If a service member returns from deployment and learns of a default judgment against him or her, the law allows the case to be reopened upon request to allow for a proper defense. If a landlord knowingly provides false information about someone’s military status under the federal law, the landlord may be fined or imprisoned for up to a year.
Landlords can ask their tenants to waive rights under SCRA when they sign a lease. However, many states have similar or even stricter provisions regarding the protection of active-duty military members in rental or lease agreements, so a simple waiver may not remove the requirements and protections outlined in SCRA.
Have you dealt with an eviction under SCRA? Care to share how it went?