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What You Need to Know About Evicting Military Tenants

July 14, 2023

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What To Know If You Have To Evict Military Tenants

Military tenants are often a great community for landlords to rent to.  

They have stable jobs and they’re typically organized and clean. 

However, not every military tenant will be a model tenant. 

There might be situations that make you see evictions as the only option. 

However, it’s critical to understand the protections afforded service members and your options by law. 

Military tenants are much more difficult to evict than civilian tenants (neither process is particularly easy, though).  

Consider Calling the Command Center 

Before you do anything else, it may be wise to call a military tenant’s commander. Though this won’t typically change much, it can be effective in certain situations. 

For instance, if a situation like a family emergency caused the financial issues, there are resources service members may not be aware of to aid them. Their commander can intervene and help in these kinds of circumstances.  

If You Must Evict a Military Tenant 

If you need to evict a military tenant, the first thing you need to do is research or reacquaint yourself with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The SCRA applies if a service member’s spouse, children, or other dependents live in the rental unit during a period of military service. A dependent is a person or persons the service member supported in the past 180 days by paying more than half of said person’s living costs.  

It also applies if their rent is below $9,106.46 per month or less. The amount changes every year to factor in inflation or rises in the cost of living. 

Lastly, this SCRA protection applies if their military service impacts their ability to pay.  

Next, you need to follow these three steps, in this order: 

  1. Verify the service member’s status: Visit https://app.servicememberscivilreliefact.com/register/ to conduct a service member lookup and check on the active-duty status of the tenant 
  1. Check your tenant’s SCRA status: If the service member meets one of the criteria listed above, then they’re eligible for 3 months or more of eviction postponement 
  1. Notify the Court: An eviction under these circumstances requires you to inform the court of your tenant’s military status 

It’s important to note that most rules related to tenant-landlord relationships come from state and local laws. Thus, be sure you follow any applicable state and local laws. Avoid getting tunnel vision when it comes to the SCRA and accidentally overstepping local laws. 

Delaying Evictions for Missed Rent Payments 

You cannot evict a service member or their dependents from a residential dwelling during military service without a court order. The SCRA also requires courts to postpone some residential evictions for nonpayment of rent up to 90 days or more depending on the situation. 

While the SCRA doesn’t prohibit landlords from serving termination notices for nonpayment of rent, you will have to notify the court that the tenant is an active service member. The judge will consider this in any decision that is made. They must determine if the person’s military status materially impacts the service member’s ability to pay rent. If the determination is in affirmative, then the judge may postpone (stay) the eviction. If the judge determines the service has no bearing on the ability to pay rent, then the lawsuit may proceed. 

If the court grants a stay, then they must give you relief as well. That relief is up to the judge’s discretion. 

Default Judgments 

Here’s an article we wrote detailing the preparation needed for an eviction court hearing. It’s a very similar process with military tenants. However, what happens if a military tenant doesn’t appear for the court date? 

A default judgment is the likely outcome of this scenario. A default judgment occurs when a defendant fails to appear and respond to a lawsuit, and the judge rules in favor of the plaintiff. 

According to the SCRA, if you’re looking to file a default judgment motion, you must notify the court that the person you’re suing is a service member on active duty. The court cannot enter a judgment without the service member or their attorney present unless the court appoints a new attorney to represent the military member. Even then, the court-appointed lawyer must locate the service member, otherwise any action taken won’t necessarily bind the service member. 

Most lawyers in this situation request a stay of proceedings. This request or a decision by the court independent of a request lead to a stay or proceedings no less than 90 days. A stay of proceedings is typically conditioned on the lawyer conducting a good faith effort to locate the defendant or if the defendant’s presence is necessary for a good defense to be put on. 

If a court enters a default judgment against your military tenant during their period of military service (or within 60 days after termination or release from this military service), and the military tenant applies for reopening the judgment, the court must approve the application and allow the tenant to put on a defense.  

Thus, even if you get a default judgment in a situation like this one, it may not be the end of things. If the service member can show that their military service materially impacted their ability to make a defense and they have a meritorious or legal defense to the action or some portion of it, the case will be reopened. 

Conclusion 

Evicting military tenants is an arduous process fraught with roadblocks. Just like with civilian tenants, you’re better off avoiding this process if possible. Do your best to facilitate a great experience for tenants and properly vet them to prevent situations like evictions. Although there isn’t a guaranteed way to prevent evictions, tenant screening and good practices will help immensely.  

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