THE SERVICEMEMBERS CIVIL RELIEF ACT (SCRA)
Read below to gain a working knowledge of the laws governing the SCRA along with it's purpose. Once you understand this act it will make more since to you. This is designed to protect those men and women fighting abroad from coming home to a decimated credit and nothing. Asking a few questions on your application and lease process can alleviate problems in this area.
THE SERVICEMEMBERS CIVIL RELIEF ACT (SCRA)
The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, created in 1957 by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, works to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society. See Civil Rights Division. As part of this work, the Civil Rights Division is tasked with enforcing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”), 50 U.S.C. §§ 3901-4043. See id. at Housing and Civil Enforcement Section.
The SCRA, enacted in 2003 and amended several times since then, revised and expanded the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940 (SSCRA), a law designed to ease financial burdens on servicemembers during periods of military service. See 50 U.S.C. §§ 3901-4043. The SCRA is a federal law that provides protections for military members as they enter active duty. See id. It covers issues such as rental agreements, security deposits, prepaid rent, evictions, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates, mortgage foreclosures, civil judicial proceedings, automobile leases, life insurance, health insurance and income tax payments. See id.
The location of the SCRA within the United States Code changed in late 2015. Previously found at (codified and cited as) 50 U.S.C. App. §§ 501-597b, there was an editorial reclassification of the SCRA by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives that became effective on December 1, 2015. The SCRA is now found at (codified as) 50 U.S.C. §§ 3901-4043.
“[T]he Act [SCRA] must be read with an eye friendly to those who dropped their affairs to answer their country’s call.” Le Maistre v. Leffers, 333 U.S. 1, 6 (1948) (citing Boone v. Lightner, 319 U.S. 561, 575 (1943)). Restated, the SCRA should generally be read in favor of the servicemembers it is intended to protect. See id.
Under the SCRA, the Attorney General is authorized to file a federal lawsuit against any person (or entity) who engages in a pattern or practice of violating this law. 50 U.S.C. § 4041(a)(1). The Attorney General may also file such a suit where the facts at hand raise "an issue of significant public importance.” Id. at § 4041(a)(2). When the Attorney General files a lawsuit under the SCRA, he has the authority to seek monetary damages on behalf of individual servicemembers. Id. at § 4041(b)(2). The Attorney General also has the authority to seek civil penalties, equitable relief, and declaratory relief. Id. at § 4041(b).
We encourage all servicemembers to first seek assistance from a local military legal assistance office. However, if military legal assistance cannot resolve the concern, the individual is not eligible for military legal assistance services, or the matter is time-sensitive, the Department will review the complaint to determine whether action is appropriate.
The SCRA provides a wide range of benefits and protections to those in military service. See 50 U.S.C. §§ 3901-4043. Military service is defined under the SCRA as including: 1) full-time active duty members of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard); 2) Reservists on federal active duty; and 3) members of the National Guard on federal orders for a period of more than 30 days. Id. at § 3911(2). Servicemembers absent from duty for a lawful cause or because of sickness, wounds or leave are covered by the SCRA. Id. at § 3911(2)(C). Commissioned officers in active service of the Public Health Service (PHS) or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are also covered by the SCRA. Id. at § 3911(2)(B).
The SCRA also provides certain benefits and protections to servicemember dependents, see, e.g., 50 U.S.C. § 3955, and, in certain instances, to those who co-signed a loan for, or took out a loan with, a servicemember. See id. at § 3913. The term “dependent” includes a servicemember’s spouse, children, and any other person for whom the servicemember has provided more than half of their financial support for the past 180 days. Id. at § 3911(4). For most servicemembers, SCRA protections begin on the date they enter active duty military service. See 50 U.S.C. § 3911(3). For military reservists, protections begin upon the receipt of certain military orders. Id. at § 3917(a).
SPECIFIC BENEFITS AND PROTECTIONS
The SCRA’s benefits and protections include a six percent interest rate cap on financial obligations that were incurred prior to military service, 50 U.S.C. § 3937; the ability to stay civil court proceedings, id. at §§ 3931, 3932; protections in connection with default judgments, id.; protections in connection with residential (apartment) lease terminations, id. at § 3955; and protections in connection with evictions, mortgage foreclosures, and installment contracts such as car loans. Id. at §§ 3931, 51, 53, 55-56.
Below you will find a description of those SCRA benefits and protections that trigger the most questions received by the Department of Justice. For questions involving areas of the SCRA not addressed below, please feel free to contact us.
Benefit and Protection No. 1 – The six percent interest rate cap. 50 U.S.C. § 3937
The SCRA limits the amount of interest that may be charged on certain financial obligations that were incurred prior to military service to no more than six percent per year, including most fees. 50 U.S.C. § 3937(a)(1) & (d)(1). In order to have the interest rate on a financial obligation such as a credit card or a mortgage capped at six percent per year, a servicemember must provide the creditor with written notice and a copy of his or her military orders or “other appropriate indicator of military service” (such as a letter from a commanding officer). Id. at § 3937(b)(1). The written notice and proof of military service must be provided to the creditor within 180 days of the end of the servicemember’s military service. Id.
In response, a creditor must forgive – not defer – interest greater than six percent per year. See 50 U.S.C. § 3937(a)(2). The creditor must forgive this interest retroactively. See id. at § 3937(a)(1) & (b)(2). The creditor is also prohibited from accelerating the payment of principal in response to a properly made request for a six percent interest rate cap. Id. at § 3937(a)(3).
For mortgages, interest is capped at six percent during the entire period of military service and for one year after the period of military service. 50 U.S.C. § 3937(a)(1)(A). For all other obligations, interest is capped at six percent only for the duration of the period of military service. Id. at § 3937(a)(1)(B).
A hypothetical under Section 3937 of the SCRA, 50 U.S.C. § 3937: John Doe takes out a mortgage and then enters military service. Captain John Doe is in military service continuously for 20 years. Captain Doe retires from military service and on the 179th day of his retirement asks that the interest rate on his mortgage be lowered to six percent per year. Captain Doe provides his creditor with a written notice and a copy of all of his military orders. The creditor must forgive the entire 20 years of interest that was at a rate greater than six percent – inclusive of fees – and an additional year of interest going forward. See, generally, 50 U.S.C. § 3937.
The following types of financial obligations, among others, are currently eligible for the six percent SCRA interest rate benefit: credit cards; automobile, ATV, boat and other vehicle loans; mortgages; home equity loans; and student loans. See, e.g., 50 U.S.C. § 3937(d)(2).
On August 14, 2008, President Bush signed into law the Higher Education Opportunity Act, P.L. 110-315, that, among other things, amended 20 U.S.C. § 1078(d) to make federally guaranteed student loans protected under the SCRA. That means that prior to August 14, 2008, the SCRA did not cover federally guaranteed student loans. So, for federally guaranteed student loans that originated before August 14, 2008, such as student loans that originated under the Federal Family Education Loan (“FFEL”) Program and Direct Loans from the Department of Education, the servicemember borrower is not covered by the SCRA.
A student loan hypothetical under Section 3937 of the SCRA, 50 U.S.C. § 3937: John Doe takes out five private student loans prior to entering into military service. After entering military service, Servicemember Doe consolidates his five loans into one loan. Six months later, he hears about the SCRA’s six percent interest rate cap and requests that the interest rate on his loan be lowered to six percent per year. He sends in a written notice and a copy of his military orders.
Question: Is Servicemember Doe entitled to the six percent interest rate cap?
Answer: Only for the period of time between when he entered military service and when he consolidated his private student loans. Servicemember Doe’s existing student loan originated during a period of military service. See 50 U.S.C. § 3937(a)(1).
Benefit and Protection No. 2 – Protections against default judgments. 50 U.S.C. § 3931.
In any civil court proceeding in which the defendant servicemember does not make an appearance, a plaintiff creditor must file an affidavit with the court stating one of three things: 1) that the defendant is in military service; 2) that the defendant is not in military service; or 3) that the creditor is unable to determine whether or not the defendant is in military service after making a good faith effort to determine the defendant’s military service status. Id. at § 3931(b)(1). This comes up most frequently for the Department of Justice in the context of judicial foreclosure proceedings. [Note: Foreclosures typically proceed in one of two ways, either judicially (through a court process), or non-judicially (without a court’s involvement). The way in which the SCRA treats the two types of foreclosure proceedings is very different, see 50 U.S.C. §§ 3931, 32 & 53, and states typically specify which way foreclosures may proceed within their borders.]
To verify an individual’s military service status, one may search the Department of Defense’s Defense Manpower Data Center (“DMDC”) database. This database may be located online at: https://scra.dmdc.osd.mil/.
The SCRA states that for civil court proceedings where a defendant servicemember has not made an appearance and it seems that he or she is in military service, a court may not enter a default judgment against that defendant until after it appoints an attorney to represent the interests of that defendant servicemember. 50 U.S.C. § 3931(b)(2). The court must stay a civil court proceeding for at least 90 days if that appointed attorney has been unable to contact the defendant servicemember, or if there may be a defense to the action that requires that the defendant be present. Id. at § 3931(d).
Benefit and Protection No. 3 – Non-judicial foreclosures. 50 U.S.C. § 3953.
Section 3953 of the SCRA, 50 U.S.C. § 3953, addresses the topic of mortgages and non-judicial foreclosures. See id. In order for a servicemember to receive the protections of Section 3953 of the SCRA, the “obligation on real or personal property” needs to have been taken out prior to the servicemember entering military service. Id. at § 3953(a)(1).
Under Section 3953 of the SCRA, 50 U.S.C. § 3953, during a period of military service, and for one year after a period of military service (the “tail coverage” period), a creditor must get a court order prior to foreclosing on a mortgage. Id. This is a strict liability section of the SCRA, and a person who knowingly violates this provision may be fined and/or imprisoned for up to one year. Id. at § 3953(d).
The tail coverage period described above has changed over time. The following is a summary of the tail coverage period over the years under 50 U.S.C. § 3953:
December 19, 2003 to July 29, 2008 – 90 days
July 30, 2008 to February 1, 2013 – Nine months
February 2, 2013 to December 31, 2015 – One year
January 1, 2016 to March 30, 2016 – 90 days. However, on March 31, 2016, the Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2015 was signed into law. See Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-142, 130 Stat. 326 (2016). This extended the tail coverage period for non-judicial foreclosures back to one year, and made this change retroactive to January 1, 2016. See id.
March 31, 2016 to present – One year
On May 24, 2018, the President signed into law the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 115-174. Section 313 provides for a permanent extension of the Section 3953 (non-judicial foreclosure) one-year tail coverage period.
Courts have the ability under the SCRA, and a duty in certain instances, to stay a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding or adjust the payments, if the servicemember’s ability to meet the obligation is materially affected because of his or her military service. 50 U.S.C. § 3953(b).
Benefit and Protection No. 4 – Installment contracts and repossessions – 50 U.S.C. § 3952.
The SCRA states that a creditor may not repossess a vehicle during a borrower’s period of military service without a court order as long as the servicemember borrower either placed a deposit for the vehicle, or made at least one installment payment on the contract before entering military service. 50 U.S.C. § 3952.
Benefit and Protection No. 5 – Residential (apartment) lease terminations – 50 U.S.C. § 3955.
Section 3955 of the SCRA, 50 U.S.C. § 3955, addresses the topic of lease terminations. With respect to residential apartment leases, the SCRA requires that the premises be occupied (or are intended to be occupied) by a servicemember or a servicemember’s dependent(s). 50 U.S.C. § 3955(b)(1). Additionally, the lease must either be executed by a person who later enters military service, or is in military service and later receives permanent change of station (“PCS”) orders or deployment orders for a period of at least 90 days. Id. at § 3955(a)(1). To terminate a residential lease, the servicemember must submit a written notice and a copy of his or her military orders – or a letter from a commanding officer – by certain methods to the landlord or landlord’s agent. Id. at § 3955(c) & (i)(1). If a servicemember pays rent on a monthly basis, once he or she gives proper notice and a copy of his or her military orders, then the lease will terminate 30 days after the next rent payment is due. 50 U.S.C. § 3955(d)(1). If a servicemember lessee dies while in military service, the spouse of a lessee may terminate the lease within one year of the death. Id. at § 3955(a)(3).
A lease termination hypothetical under Section 3955 of the SCRA, 50 U.S.C. § 3955: Jane Servicemember receives PCS orders to transfer from Iowa to Texas. She gives her landlord written notice of her intent to terminate her apartment lease and a copy of her PCS orders on September 18th. Her next rent payment is due on October 1st. The effective date of the lease termination will be Halloween – October 31st. See, generally, 50 U.S.C. § 3955.
Benefit and Protection No. 6 – Enforcement of Storage Liens – 50 U.S.C. § 3958.
Section 3958 of the SCRA states that a person holding a lien on the property of a servicemember, such as a storage facility or a tow company, may not enforce the lien (dispose of the property) without a court order during the servicemember’s period of military service and 90 days thereafter. 50 U.S.C. § 3958.
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The Initial Purpose of The Act
SCRA: The purpose and history of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
February 21, 2022
Bell Law Out of Kansas City does a great job defining the origianal reasoning.
In recent decades, numerous pieces of key legislation have been written and adopted into law that are designed to protect consumers’ rights. One of the biggest pieces of legislation has to be the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The act is designed to offer certain protections for servicemembers who are called to active duty. According to the Department of Justice, the SCRA was enacted in 2003 and has since seen multiple revisions. The law revised and expanded the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940, providing financial relief to those called into active duty. Offering financial protections for active service members, the law covers a variety of financial issues including but not limited to rental agreements, evictions, prepaid rent, installment contracts, interest rates and more.
The SCRA was originally written into law in 2003. The 2003 law was an expansion, however, of the original act written in 1940. Both the original act and its expansions have been, according to justice.gov, intended to “Provide a wide range of benefits and protections to those in military service.” The SCRA not only provides benefits and protections for servicemembers, but it may also benefit their dependents as well. Servicemember protections begin on the day they enter active military service. For reservists, they begin once certain military orders have been received.
Benefits and Protections Offered
The SCRA offers a variety of benefits for service members. These benefits are designed to assist military personnel with lending issues and to prevent unnecessary foreclosures and other hardships. There are six primary benefits offered by SCRA. These benefits include:
A six percent interest rate cap
Protections against default judgment
Installment contracts and repossessions
Residential lease terminations
Enforcement of storage liens
The desire of SCRA, according to consumerfinance.gov, is to provide “extra protections for servicemembers in the event that legal or financial transactions adversely affect their rights during military or uniformed service.” The six major issues highlighted above can prevent numerous headaches and major legal issues such as foreclosure, repossession and more. These protections allow the servicemember to focus all of their energy on the task at hand: Protecting this great nation we call home.
If you are an active service member or about to join the service, learning more about your rights under SCRA may take a simple phone call. Call us today to learn more or visit us online at Bell Law, LLC. We are here to help in any way we can and the first step in doing so is educating you on what your rights are.
This is designed for the purpose of preventing men and women serving our great nation to come back to nothing after waging war for us to be free. Here and Underground Landlord we encourage you to make concessions when at all possible for our brave men and women serving our country. To our Vets, we salute you and appreciate your sacrifice!