Lincoln Military Housing Agrees to Pay $200,000 to Settle Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Violations
Case Marks First Time the Justice Department has Filed Suit Alleging Unlawful Eviction of Active-Duty Servicemembers
The Justice Department announced today that Lincoln Military Housing, which owns and operates dozens of on-base and off-base military housing communities throughout Southern California, has agreed to pay $200,000 to resolve allegations that it unlawfully evicted active-duty servicemembers and their families by obtaining default judgments against them, in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This is the first case that the Justice Department has filed alleging the unlawful eviction of servicemembers from their homes.
The SCRA provides servicemembers with protections against certain transactions that could adversely affect their civil legal rights while they are in military service. Under the SCRA, if a tenant who is on active duty is sued for eviction and does not make an appearance in the case for any reason, the landlord must file an affidavit with the court stating whether the tenant is in military service, showing necessary facts to support the affidavit. To evict a tenant in California, a landlord must first obtain a court order. The complaint alleges that Lincoln Military Housing requested default judgments against servicemembers without filing the affidavits required by the SCRA to alert the court of the tenants’ military status. As a result, servicemembers were put at risk of being evicted without having an opportunity to participate in the case and without having an attorney assigned to represent them.
Despite the fact that the servicemembers who are receiving compensation under the settlement were all in military service at the time of their evictions, Lincoln Military Housing filed affidavits stating that no defendants were in military service.
Under the consent order, which is still subject to approval by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Lincoln Military Housing must pay each aggrieved servicemember $35,000, vacate the eviction judgment, forgive any deficiency balance and ask the credit bureaus to remove the evictions from their credit reports. In addition to compensating the servicemembers, Lincoln Military Housing must pay a civil penalty of $60,000 to the United States.
“Lincoln Military Housing unlawfully evicted active duty servicemembers and their families from their homes,” said Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer. “This settlement rights that wrong and serves as a powerful reminder that we will protect and defend the rights of those who protect us all.”
“Our servicemembers, who risk their lives to protect our freedom, should never return from duty to find their civil rights violated and their families evicted,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue our vigorous and robust enforcement of the SCRA to safeguard the rights of those who defend us.”
“The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act was designed to protect our servicemembers and their dependents answering our nation’s call to duty,” said U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy of the Southern District of California. “Servicemembers should not have to worry about their families being evicted while they are serving the United States. We will continue to enforce the laws that protect our warfighters.”
The settlement also requires Lincoln Military Housing to make systemic changes to its business practices, including providing SCRA training to its employees and developing new policies and procedures consistent with the SCRA. The policies and procedures will require Lincoln Military Housing and its agents to review the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) database and file a proper affidavit of military service before seeking a default judgment against a tenant in an eviction action.
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 department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available at www.servicemembers.gov.
This matter resulted from a referral to the Justice Department by the Legal Services Support Team at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
This matter was jointly handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of California and the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section. The department’s investigation was done in coordination with the California Office of the Attorney General, which filed its own case today in state court under California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.