Justice Department Secures Compensation for Servicemembers After Property Management Company Illegally Charged Lease Termination Fees at New Jersey Apartment Complex
The Justice Department today announced that two Virginia landlords have agreed to pay $225,000 to resolve allegations that they violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by obtaining unlawful court judgments against military tenants at the Hideaway at Greenbrier Luxury Apartment Homes in Chesapeake, Virginia, and the Chase Arbor Apartments in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“Eviction judgments seriously jeopardize servicemembers’ ability to find and obtain affordable housing and negatively impact the financial readiness of our armed forces,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The department will vigorously pursue any landlord that obtains eviction judgments against servicemembers by misrepresenting their military status to the court.”
“A servicemember’s military career is adversely affected by a judgment, which affects the military’s readiness,” said U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to pursuing companies that obtain default judgments against servicemembers by misrepresenting a servicemember’s military status or by failing to file an affidavit of military service, as required by the SCRA.”
Under the SCRA, if a landlord files a civil lawsuit against a tenant and the tenant does not appear in court, the landlord must file an affidavit with the court stating whether the tenant is in the military before seeking a judgment. If the affidavit says that the tenant is in military service, the court cannot enter judgment until it appoints an attorney to represent the servicemember. The court must also postpone the case for at least 90 days. In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the department alleges that the owners of the Hideaway at Greenbrier and Chase Arbor Apartments filed false affidavits and failed to file affidavits of military service, as required by the SCRA, prior to obtaining default judgments against numerous servicemembers. The properties are affiliated with one another and used the same law firm to file eviction claims in Virginia state courts.
The department alleges that the properties’ owners knew or should have known that the affidavits that they filed were inaccurate, because their files contained information that would have allowed them to easily verify their tenants’ military status. Landlords and lenders can also verify an individual’s military status by searching the Defense Manpower Data Center’s free publicly available website and by reviewing their files to see if there are applications, military leave and earnings statements or military orders indicating military status.
Under the proposed consent order, which still must be approved by the court, the owners of the two properties will pay $162,971 to affected servicemembers and a $62,029 civil penalty to the United States. The order also requires the owners to vacate the eviction judgments, repair the servicemembers’ credit, provide SCRA training to their employees and develop new policies and procedures consistent with the SCRA. The owners must also reimburse affected servicemembers for any amounts collected pursuant to an unlawful judgment.
This matter was handled jointly by the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Since 2011, the department has obtained over $476 million in monetary relief for over 121,000 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 http://legalassistance.law.af.mil.
The civil claims settled are allegations only; there has been no determination by a court of liability.