The Justice Department announced today that JAG Management Company LLC (JAG), which manages large apartment properties in several states, agreed on Friday to pay $61,581 to resolve allegations that it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that JAG imposed illegal fees on at least nine servicemembers who had exercised their right under the SCRA to terminate their leases after receiving qualifying military orders. The servicemembers were residents of the Jefferson Mount Laurel apartment complex in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The termination fees ran as high as $2,750 per servicemember.
“Servicemembers should not have to pay any fees – much less exorbitant fees – to landlords when they are simply complying with their military orders and protecting our country,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This resolution reaffirms the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to protecting the rights of servicemembers, veterans and their families.”
“Our office is committed to protecting the rights of servicemembers who make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our nation,” said U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger for the District of New Jersey. “Landlords and property managers may not unlawfully penalize members of our armed forces who are simply carrying out their duty. Through this consent order, we protect the rights of servicemembers and provide compensation to those who suffered harm when they were allegedly unlawfully charged early lease termination fees upon receiving military orders.”
The complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey alleges that Coast Guard Lieutenant Daniel Pereira sought to terminate his lease with JAG Management after he received permanent change of station orders transferring him from Philadelphia to New London, Connecticut. Lt. Pereira provided JAG with timely written notice of his lease termination and a copy of his transfer orders before vacating his apartment. However, two months after moving, Lt. Pereira was notified – for the first time – that JAG was demanding that he repay a $2,100 rent concession he received when he signed his lease. Despite Lt. Pereira’s efforts to resolve the matter, including providing JAG with the relevant provisions of the SCRA and prior Justice Department cases on this issue, JAG reported the debt to credit reporting agencies and Lt. Pereira’s credit score was downgraded. The complaint also alleges that JAG charged illegal fees to at least eight other servicemembers, representing the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard and Air National Guard, who had exercised their right to terminate their residential leases upon receipt of qualifying military orders.
Under the terms of the proposed consent order, which was filed with the complaint and is subject to court approval, JAG Management must pay a total of $41,581 in damages to the nine servicemembers. JAG must also pay a civil penalty of $20,000 to the federal government. In addition, JAG must implement policies to ensure it complies with the SCRA, trains employees on the protections afforded by the SCRA and reports future SCRA-related complaints to the federal government.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section investigated JAG Management’s leasing practices after receiving a referral from the Justice Department’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative.
The purpose of the SCRA is to allow servicemembers to devote their entire energy to the national defense. The SCRA provides protections to servicemembers in areas such as evictions, security deposits, pre-paid rent, civil judicial proceedings, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates, mortgage foreclosures, automobile leases, life insurance, health insurance and income tax payments. The SCRA also allows servicemembers to terminate their residential leases after entering military service or receiving military orders for a permanent change of station, deployment or retirement without paying a penalty or an early termination charge.
Since 2011, the department has obtained over $481 million in monetary relief for over 146,000 servicemembers through its enforcement of the SCRA. For more information about the department’s SCRA enforcement efforts, please visit www.servicemembers.gov.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe their rights under the SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at legalassistance.law.af.mil.
Individuals who believe their civil rights have been violated may also file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey at www.justice.gov/usao-nj/civil-rights-enforcement/complaint or may call the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Complaint Hotline at (855) 281-3339.