What is The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and How Does it Impact Landlords?
July 14, 2023
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A Guide To SCRA
Every landlord renting to military tenants should understand the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
The SCRA is a law that provides extra legal and financial protections for active service members.
Landlords renting to military tenants need to understand this Act because it may affect you handle certain situations with military tenants.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what the SCRA is, which protections exist under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and how it may impact you.
The SCRA postpones or suspends specific civil obligations to enable service members to devote their full attention to duty and relieve stress on their families. These are the most common forms of protection the Act covers that might impact landlords:
- Mortgage Relief
- Termination of Leases
- Eviction Protections
- Stay of Proceedings
- Reopening Default Judgments
- Enforcement of Storage Liens
The SCRA applies to all active-duty service members, reservists, and National Guard members on active duty.
It’s important to note that the Supreme Court ruled the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protections must be read with “an eye friendly to those who dropped their affairs to answer their country’s call.” Thus, this Act means protections often favor active service members.
If a servicemember takes out a mortgage before entering active service, they cannot be foreclosed on without a court order. This rule also extends one year past active duty. Furthermore, it still holds weight in states that don’t require a court order to foreclose.
The SCRA even gives the court power to pause or prevent a foreclosure proceeding or change the loan if the servicemember can’t pay the loan due to their active duty service.
Termination of Leases
The SCRA lets service members terminate residential leases of property occupied or soon to be occupied by the servicemember or their dependents. If a servicemember signs a lease before active duty service or receives a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) during active duty, then they can typically terminate a lease without penalties.
In an ideal world, a servicemember will let you know about a change in orders as soon as possible. You can then work through the process of terminating the lease. The main criteria for an allowable lease termination is if the servicemember is being called to active duty for more than 90 days or getting reassigned for more than 90 days.
As a landlord, it’s critical to run a military status verification before moving forward with an eviction. If you give notice to a tenant on active duty, you may violate the SCRA and be required to pay heavy fines.
Ideally, service members should provide notice and copies of their orders before vacating your property. It’s important to know, though, that if a case ends up in court because a servicemember didn’t provide notice, the courts often still side with them.
If you receive a vacate notice from a servicemember, you must make it effective 30 days after receipt. Thus, your renter will likely still owe one more month’s rent. And, if they did any damage to the property, they’re responsible for compensating you fairly.
As touched on earlier, a court can modify the amount of rent for service members being evicted or postpone an eviction altogether under the SCRA.
For instance, if a military tenant is being evicted for nonpayment of rent, a court can postpone the eviction up to 3 months or more if there is proof that military service affected the service member’s ability to pay rent.
Additionally, a court can modify the amount of rent money owed if a military tenant is being evicted. That said, these modifications are only allowed if the tenant’s monthly rent is under a specific amount. This amount varies based on interest rates and inflation.
It’s important to note that the SCRA doesn’t protect anyone against material breaches of the lease. Thus, for instance, if a military tenant sneaks a pet onto the property without notification or payment and you have a “no-pets clause” in your lease, that could be grounds for an eviction.
Stay of Proceedings
The requirements for a “stay” (e.g., delay) of proceedings vary depending on if the service member has notice of the pending case. When the military person receives notice of pending proceedings, they may apply to the court for a stay of proceedings. The stay request must include these elements:
(a) “a letter or other communication setting forth the facts stating the manner in which the current duty requirements materially affect the service member’s ability to appear”
(b) and stating a date when the service member can appear and
(c) “a letter or other communication” from the commanding officer explaining that the service member’s current military duties prevent appearance and
(d) stating that leave is not authorized for the service member to attend the proceeding.
[50 U.S.C. 3932(b)(2)]
If the stay request satisfies these requirements, the judge must grant a delay no less than 90 days in length. A longer stay may be granted if the court determines a longer stay is needed.
Reopening Default Judgments
In certain instances service members can repoen default judgments. The criteria includes:
- The defendant applies to the court that passed down the original judgement
- The judgement occrued when the service member was on active duty or 60 days thereafter
- The application is filed when the service member is on active duty or 90 days thereafter
- The service member’s military service prejudiced his ability to defend the action
- There is a meritorious defense to the original claim
If anyone files a false affidavit concerning military service that is considered a criminal offense, as are other certain knowing violations of lease terminations provisions related to the SCRA.
So, what might an example of this situation look like? Let’s say a service member finds out a default judgment was entered against them two months prior. As long as they were on active duty in the last 90 days, they follow the steps above and ask the court to undue the judgment.
Obviously, this may impact landlords if you win a case against a service member because they were away on active duty. Thus, it’s important to have an awareness of the potential for the reopening of the judgment.
Enforcement of Storage Liens
What happens if a service member leaves personal items behind when they leave your property in a hurry?
The SCRA prevents you from doing anything without a court order. Landlords who violate this rule could face fines and a year in prison. So, if you want to get rid of a military tenant’s belongings that they left behind, be sure to get the courts involved. Be sure to follow the SCRA, state laws, and federal laws.
The SCRA impacts landlords and it’s important to understand how it affects your business. Because the penalties can be severe, it’s critical to do your research.