Military Housing Provider Settles Complaint Alleging Unlawful Eviction of Servicemembers
The Justice Department recently announced a $200,000 settlement with a company that owns and operates dozens of on-base and off-base military housing communities in California based on allegations that it unlawfully evicted active-duty servicemembers and their families in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The case marks the first time that the Justice Department has filed suit alleging the unlawful eviction of servicemembers from their homes.
The SCRA provides servicemembers with protections against certain transactions that could adversely affect their civil legal rights while they are in military service. Under the SCRA, if a tenant who is on active duty is sued for eviction and does not make an appearance in the case for any reason, the landlord must file an affidavit with the court stating whether the tenant is in military service, showing necessary facts to support the affidavit. To evict a tenant in California, a landlord must first obtain a court order.
The complaint alleged that the owner/operator requested default judgments against servicemembers without filing the affidavits required by the SCRA to alert the court of the tenants’ military status. As a result, the complaint alleged, servicemembers were put at risk of being evicted without having an opportunity to participate in the case and without having an attorney assigned to represent them. Even though the servicemembers who are receiving compensation under the settlement were all in military service at the time of their evictions, the company allegedly filed affidavits stating that none of the defendants were in military service.
Under the settlement, which still requires court approval, the company agreed to pay $35,000 to each affected servicemember, vacate the eviction judgment, forgive any deficiency balance, and ask the credit bureaus to remove the evictions from their credit reports. The settlement also requires the company to pay a $60,000 civil penalty.
In addition, the company agreed to make systemic changes to its business practices, including providing SCRA training to its employees and developing new policies and procedures consistent with the SCRA. The policies and procedures will require the company and its agents to review the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) database and file a proper affidavit of military service before seeking a default judgment against a tenant in an eviction action.
“Our servicemembers, who risk their lives to protect our freedom, should never return from duty to find their civil rights violated and their families evicted,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue our vigorous and robust enforcement of the SCRA to safeguard the rights of those who defend us.”
Additional information about the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available on the DOJ’s website at www.servicemembers.gov.