The Justice Department today announced that FPI Management Inc. (FPI) has agreed to pay $74,087 to resolve allegations that it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by imposing unlawful charges on nine servicemembers who were exercising their right to terminate their apartment leases after receiving military orders to relocate.
“The right for servicemembers to terminate leases without penalty when military orders send them elsewhere is a critical protection for people who already sacrifice so much,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to enforce federal civil rights laws to ensure that paying rent for housing they no longer need is not another sacrifice servicemembers must bear.”
“The SCRA protects servicemembers who have answered our country’s call to serve,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partners in the Civil Rights Division stand ready to vindicate those rights, to allow our servicemembers to focus on their duty and relieve stress on them and their families.”
The SCRA extends various protections to servicemembers to allow them to devote their entire energy to the national defense. The SCRA provides protections for servicemembers in areas such as evictions, security deposits, pre-paid rent, civil judicial proceedings, installment contracts, interest rates, foreclosures and automobile leases. 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. Landlords are prohibited from imposing an early termination charge on servicemembers who terminate their leases under the SCRA.
The department launched an investigation into FPI’s leasing practices after receiving a referral from Coast Guard Legal Assistance about two instances where FPI attempted to require servicemembers who were terminating their leases early under the SCRA to repay discounts they had received when they signed the lease. In one case, FPI required Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Aaron Gomez and his wife to repay $8,590 in lease concessions after they terminated their lease at an apartment building in Oakland, California, near Coast Guard Island Alameda. In the other case, FPI told Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class William Fuchs that he would have to repay $7,838 in lease incentives after he terminated his lease at the same apartment building. Fuchs had just received military orders to relocate Charleston, South Carolina.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, the department alleges that FPI unlawfully imposed early termination charges on a total of nine servicemembers who had exercised their right to terminate their residential leases upon receipt of qualifying military orders.
Under the consent order, which still must be approved by the court, FPI has agreed to pay a total of $51,587 to the servicemembers and a $22,500 civil penalty to the United States. The order also requires FPI to repair the servicemembers’ tenant database entries, implement new policies and procedures that comply with the SCRA and training its employees on the SCRA.
Since 2011, the Justice Department has been awarded 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 that 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.