$5,650 Settlement in First Landlord-Tenant Case under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

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Here is another example of a recent legal case involving a real estate issue.  I try to post case summaries in order to provide timely updates to real estate professionals on important issues.

On September 24, 2009, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that it had reached a settlement with a Virginia landlord to resolve allegations that she violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”). The lawsuit alleged that the landlord failed to return prepaid rent and security deposits to a tenant who had terminated her lease early in order to comply with military orders to relocate to Georgia.

The SCRA provides certain protections to active duty servicemembers who must terminate residential leases to comply with military orders for a permanent change of station or for deployment. The lawsuit represented the first lawsuit involving a landlord-tenant matter brought by the DOJ under the SCRA.

The tenant in this lawsuit, Colonel Debra Bean, was a highly decorated member of the armed forces. Colonel Bean currently serves as Vice Commander for the 78th Air Base Wing at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.

On June 11, 2007, Colonel Bean and her husband signed a two-year lease for a home in Fairfax, Virginia. Under the terms of the lease, the monthly rent was $3,000, payable on the first day of each month beginning with July 1, 2007. The Beans also gave the landlord a $3,000 security deposit and a $500 pet deposit. Under the terms of the lease, the Beans had the right to terminate the lease if Colonel Bean was transferred more than thirty-five miles from the rental home by the United States Air Force. In the event of early termination, the lease required the Beans to pay a $1,500 early termination fee.

Also under the terms of the lease, the landlord was required to, within thirty days after the termination of the tenancy, provide the Beans with a statement, if applicable, showing all charges paid against the Beans’ $3,000.00 security deposit, and return to the Beans any remaining amount of the security deposit not used for repairs and/or unpaid rent and utilities.

The Beans moved into the rental home on July 1, 2007. They made all rent payments in a timely manner from July 1, 2007, through May 2008.

On April 14, 2008, Colonel Bean received permanent change of station orders from the United States Air Force transferring her from the Pentagon to Robins Air Force Base in Robins, Georgia. Under the terms of the orders, Colonel Bean was required to report for duty at Robins Air Force Base by no later than May 30, 2008.

On May 12, 2008, Mr. Bean sent a certified letter to the landlord informing her that his family intended to move out of the rental home on June 19, 2008. Included with Mr. Bean’s letter was a check for $1,900 for rent for the time period from June 1, 2008, to June 19, 2008, a second check for $1,500.00 for the early lease termination, and a copy of Colonel Bean’s permanent change of station orders.

The Beans moved out of the house on June 19, 2008. On June 27, 2008, the landlord sent the Beans a message in which she stated that she had visited the rental home and noted that everything looked fine at the property. Nevertheless, the landlord refused to return the Beans’ $3,000 security deposit and $500 pet deposit.

After the landlord refused to return the security deposits, the Beans were forced to pursue their rights under the SCRA. This case was handled on their behalf by the DOJ.

Under the terms of the settlement, the landlord was required to pay $5,650 in damages to the Beans and was enjoined from engaging in future violations of the SCRA. The landlord must also undergo SCRA training and submit compliance reports to the government.

Source:  U.S. Department of Justice press release (portions of press release used with permission)


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Robert L. Brown
www.mrbrownsellsgr.com - Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids Real Estate Bellabay Realty, West Mic

My assumption the landlord didn't understand that the full weight of the government was behind this situation. Maybe they were just not thinking.

Oct 18, 2009 05:50 AM #1
Wallace S. Gibson, CPM
Gibson Management Group, Ltd. - Charlottesville, VA

Many military residents don't understand that they need to provide their landlord with a copy of their orders to trigger the act.

Many landlords in areas with military tenants do not do leases - they only do M2M so that they have some control over their leasing.

Nov 30, 2009 11:29 AM #2
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