Lincoln Military Housing is to pay $200,000 in costs and penalties to four service members and the federal government as part of a Justice Department settlement reached Thursday after the company unlawfully evicted service members from their homes on base.
The case marks the first time the Justice Department has filed allegations of unlawful evictions under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, officials said.
This law provides troops with legal and financial protections in civil matters, including seizures and evictions. Although the department has reached agreements with major mortgage lenders on foreclosures in the past, no case has specifically dealt with rental evictions.
The law requires that the courts be notified if a tenant who has been sued for eviction and is not appearing in court is on active duty. The lawsuit filed against Lincoln Military Housing alleges that the company not only failed to notify the court of the tenants’ service status, but also filed affidavits specifically stating that the tenants were not on active duty.
“Lincoln Military Housing has unlawfully evicted active duty service members and their families from their homes,” Bill Baer, senior assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, said in a statement. will protect and defend the rights of those who protect us all.”
The settlement requires Lincoln Military Housing to pay the service members represented in the case $35,000 each, set aside the eviction judgment, forgive any current balances, and instruct the credit bureau to remove the evictions from credit reports. service members.
It must also pay a $60,000 civil penalty to the government, officials said, as well as change its business practices to better align with federal law and train employees on compliance.
The case follows a separate but similar lawsuit filed by the State of California against Lincoln; San Diego Family Housing, which is a public-private partnership between the Department of Defense and Lincoln; and their law firm, Kimball, Tirey and St. John. That case, settled Wednesday, awards 18 service members, including the four covered by the Justice Department case, combined debt relief of $52,000 and requires $200,000 in civil penalties.
The settlement still needs to be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, officials said.
While this is the first deportation case filed by the federal government under the Military Civilian Assistance Act, it is far from the first settlement reached as a result of the law.
In early 2015, the department reached a $9.35 million settlement with car lender Santander Consumer USA in a lawsuit alleging the lender violated the law through improper vehicle repossessions.
And a series of settlements with mortgage companies between 2012 and 2015 awarded the military nearly $250 million in payments for foreclosures and interest rates that broke the law.
Lincoln Military Housing operates homes on the base at 30 facilities across the United States, including 10 in California, where the settlement was reached.
“It is unfortunate that this has happened, but we have taken specific steps to address it. We look forward to continuing to provide excellent housing and healthy communities for military families who reside in one of our most of 10,000 off-base housing units in California and across our country who we are honored to serve,” Lincoln Military Housing officials said in a statement.
Military Family Advocates with the Military Spouse JD Network, a bar association for military spousessaid it was important for family members to know what their rights are under the law – and when to alert authorities in the event of abuse.
“Your grassroots legal office is a great resource, and this case is a great reminder of that,” said Josie Beets, attorney and president of the network. “They can explain your rights under the SCRA and can refer cases like these to the DoJ for enforcement. It’s important for military families to remember the protections the SCRA gives them and make sure they don’t not sign them.”
— Amy Bushatz can be reached at [email protected]
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