Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Enforcement -- A Success Story|
Posted 12/16/2009 Updated 2/8/2010
Commentary by DEBBY STONE
Chief, Civil Law, WR-ALC/JAC
12/16/2009 - Robins AFB, GA -- Eleven years ago, I came to work at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center legal office as a civil law job-share attorney. My favorite duty was then, and still is now, legal assistance. It is incredibly rewarding work. However, it can also be challenging.
While we are proud of the assistance we can give, we have been frustrated by our inability to enforce tenants' rights through the SCRA when dealing with an out-of-state landlord. If a client's problem fell within the protections of the SCRA, an attorney would attempt to explain the law to the landlord. However, if calls and letters didn't get results, then our clients were left with only two options. A client could sue the landlord or give up. Neither option was terrific.
Now, our clients have a third option. We can now partner with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and have the DOJ file suit on behalf of the client.
On 24 September 2009, the DOJ filed suit against a Virginia landlord for violating the SCRA -- the first landlord-tenant case filed by the DOJ under the SCRA. This suit involved a service member, a client from our office, who terminated her Virginia home lease early because of a permanent change of station. She moved from Virginia to Georgia.
Although the tenant had complied with all obligations under the lease, all notice provisions under the SCRA, and had documentary evidence from the landlord that she had caused no damage to the residence, the landlord refused to return her security deposit, pet deposit and overpaid rent. After correspondence between the tenant and landlord proved fruitless, the tenant sought assistance from our office. Our letter to the landlord was met with allegations of damage to the property and a refusal
to return the client's money.
The tenant in this case had kept good records, so we decided to contact the DOJ to see if they would prosecute the case. With the assistance of Major Thomas Byron at The JAG School, we contacted the DOJ and Ms. Tanya Kirwan ended up taking the case.
When Ms. Kirwan contacted the landlord and explained that the DOJ would be prosecuting the case, the landlord was surprised that the DOJ would be representing the tenant. Ms. Kirwan clarified for the landlord that the DOJ was representing the United States government. Shortly thereafter, the case settled. The landlord returned all $3,900 of the client's money, plus an additional $1,750.
This new Air Force-DOJ partnership promises to be an invaluable tool for legal assistance practitioners as well as a huge benefit for our clients.