In 1940, Congress passed the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) to protect servicemembers on active duty. The protections provided by the SSCRA were significantly expanded by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) in 2003. The SCRA is a necessary protection for servicemembers in a time of conflict or during training. The law postpones or suspends certain civil obligations to enable servicemembers to devote full attention to duty and relieve stress on the deployed servicemembers’ family members.
SCRA’s protections apply to the following “servicemembers”:
- Members of the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard on active duty
- National Guard members called to active duty by the President or Secretary of Defense for over 30 consecutive days.
- Commissioned members of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
As well, in 2009, Congress passed the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, which amended the SCRA to extend certain protections to spouses of servicemembers and their families.
The most common forms of protection and relief sought under SCRA are for:
- Mortgage Relief
- Termination of Leases
- Protection From Eviction
- 6% Cap on Interest Rates
- Stay of Proceedings pending against the servicemember.
- Reopening Default Judgments
- Counsel to be appointed for the servicemember if he or she cannot be located before a default judgment against the servicemember is entered
The law provides many other protections for active duty servicemembers as well.
The SCRA is not intended as a permanent shelter from facing legal and family responsibilities. It does not end proceedings against servicemembers, but rather suspends actions until the servicemember is available. The protection begins on the date of entering active duty and generally terminates within 30 to 90 days after the date of discharge from active duty.
Protection from Eviction and Distress for Rent Actions
Except by court order, a landlord may not evict (or otherwise subject the premises to a distress action) a servicemember or the dependents of a servicemember during a period of military service from a residence for which the monthly rent does not exceed the maximum amount provided by the Act. The maximum monthly rent amount is adjusted annually by the Department of Defense; for 2015, the maximum amount is $ $3,329.84. The current year’s calculation can be found by visiting www.servicememberscivilreliefact.com and searching for “maximum monthly rental amount”.
In any eviction or distress case, the court may in its discretion, and must if requested by the servicemember, grant a delay of proceedings for up to three months if the tenant’s ability to pay the agreed rent is materially affected by the military service or adjust any obligation under the lease. The court may also grant equitable relief to the landlord.
Protection from Breach of Lease
After a servicemember enters military service, a contract by the servicemember for lease of property may not be rescinded or terminated for a breach of terms of the contract occurring before or during that person's military service. This section applies only to a contract for which a deposit has been paid by the servicemember before the servicemember enters military service.
Termination of Lease by Servicemember Tenant
A servicemember tenant may terminate a residential lease at any time after the tenant’s entry into military service or the date of the tenant’s military orders. This also terminates any obligation of the servicemember tenant’s dependent.
This applies to leases executed either (1) by or on behalf of a person who, during the term of the lease, enters military service, or (2) by the servicemember while in military service executes the lease and thereafter receives military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit or as an individual in support of a military operation for a period of not less than 90 days.
Termination of the lease must be made by delivery of written notice of termination and a copy of the servicemember's military orders to the landlord or landlord’s agent. Delivery of notice may be accomplished by hand delivery, by private business carrier or by placing the written notice in an envelope with sufficient postage and with return receipt requested, and addressed to the landlord or his agent and depositing the written notice in the United States mail.
Termination of the lease is effective 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due. Any rent unpaid for the period preceding the effective date of the lease termination must be paid on a prorated basis. Any rents paid in advance for a period after the effective date of the termination of the lease must be refunded to the tenant within 30 days of the effective date of the termination of the lease.
Any person who knowingly violates the above provisions is subject to federal penalties of a fine or imprisonment for up to one year, or both. Read the Law: 50 USC App. §§ 501 et. seq.