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WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that it had reached a settlement with a Virginia landlord to resolve allegations that she violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The lawsuit alleged that the landlord failed to return prepaid rent and security deposits to a tenant who had terminated her lease early in order to comply with military orders to relocate from to Georgia.
The SCRA provides certain protections to active duty servicemembers who must terminate residential leases to comply with military orders for a permanent change of station or for deployment. The complaint, which was filed with the settlement, represents the first lawsuit involving a landlord-tenant matter brought by the Justice Department under the SCRA. Under the terms of the settlement, which must be approved in federal court in Virginia, the landlord must pay her former tenant a total of $5,600 in damages and is enjoined from engaging in future violations of the SCRA.
"It is because of our men and women in uniform that we, as a nation, are able to enjoy great personal freedoms," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "It is therefore our duty, and our privilege, to protect the rights of our servicemembers, as they protect us."
The tenant in this lawsuit, colonel Debra Bean, is a highly decorated member of the armed forces. Colonel Bean currently serves as Vice Commander for the 78th Air Base Wing at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
The Justice Department’s investigation of this matter originated with a referral to the Civil Rights Division from the U.S. Air Force. The Civil Rights Division received enforcement authority under the SCRA in 2006, and has since reviewed numerous allegations of SCRA violations and resolved investigations in the following areas without the need for litigation: the charging of excess interest over the six percent interest rate cap; the repossession of vehicles without court orders; and the foreclosure on home mortgage loans without court orders.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office. Office locations may be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php. Additional information on the Justice Department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available at www.servicemembers.gov.