Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act
Service Member Civil Relief Law
Remaining largely unchanged since 1940, the The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) was updated on 19 December 2003. The President signed HR 100 into law. This law significantly enhances the protections shown below.
The SSCRA In A Nutshell
The SSCRA is a law that helps the military member have more time to pay debts, honor contracts, pay taxes, maintain state of dwelling for tax purposes, as well as be granted stays in legal proceedings, terminate lease agreements, and avoid eviction if military service is the cause of the member not being able to pay or honor such agreements due to service.
The provisions of the SCRA generally end when a service member is discharged from active duty or within 90 days of discharge, or when the service member dies. Portions of the SCRA also apply to reservists and inductees who have received orders but not yet reported to active duty or induction into the military service.
The very nature of military service often compromises the ability of service members to fulfill their financial obligations and to assert many of their legal rights. Congress and the state legislatures have long recognized the need for protective legislation. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) of 1940 is essentially a reenactment of the 1918 statute. Experience during World War II and subsequent armed conflicts made certain changes in the statute necessary. The first of these amendments became law in 1942. In amending the Act, Congress was motivated, in part, by the desire to override court decisions that, in some instances, had led to restrictive interpretations of the Act.
Reservists and members of the National Guard (when in active federal service) are also protected under the SSCRA. SSCRA (for all) begins on the first day of active duty, which means when the person ships out to basic training (Basic Training, and job-school are considered active duty for Guard and Reserve personnel, as well as active duty personnel).
Some protections under the act extend for a limited time beyond active duty discharge or release but are tied to the discharge/release date.
Additionally, some of the Act’s protections extend to the members’ dependents. Here is a list of the details and further explanation below:
Termination of Pre-Service Lease Agreements
A service member who is leasing/renting property used for dwelling, professional, business, agricultural or similar purposes may terminate a lease that was 1) signed before the service member entered active duty and 2) the lease/rented premises have been occupied for the above purposes by the service member or his/her dependents.
The service member must deliver written notice of termination to the landlord after entry on active duty or receipt of orders for active duty. The termination date for a month-to-month lease/rental is 30 days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due after the termination notice is delivered. For example, if rent is due on the 1st of the month and notice is delivered to the landlord on August 5th, the next rent due is September 1st. Therefore, the lease/rental agreement will terminate on October 1st.
For all other lease/rental agreements, the termination date will be the last day of the month after the month in which the notice was given. For example, if the term of the lease/rental agreement is yearly and notice was given August 5th, then the termination date will be September 30th.
If the rent has been paid in advance, then the landlord must return any unearned portion. The landlord may not withhold the refund of a service member’s security deposit for early termination of the lease/rental agreement.
However, the landlord may withhold return of the security deposit for damages, repairs, and other lawful provisions of the lease/rental agreement.
It's important to understand that, under the SSCRA, a lease can only be terminated if entered into before one goes onto active duty. The SSCRA has no provisions for terminating leases entered into after entry on active duty. Several (not all) states have laws which allow military members to break their leases in the event they must move due to military orders. In those states which do not have such laws, it is important that the active duty member ensure his/her lease contains a "military clause," which allows the member to terminate the lease in the event he/she must move due to military orders. Most bases require servicemembers to have leases approved by the local military housing office. One of the reasons for this is to ensure that the lease contains a "military clause."
Evictions from leased housing
A service member may seek protection from eviction under SSCRA. The rented/leased property must be occupied by the service member or his/her dependents for the purpose of housing, and the rent can not exceed $1,200. The service member or dependent who has received notice of an eviction must submit a request to the court for protection under the SSCRA.
If the court finds that the service member’s military duties have materially affected his ability to pay his rent timely, the judge may order a stay, postponement, of the eviction proceeding for up to 3 months or make any other “just” order.
6% Interest Rate
If a service member’s military obligation has affected his/her ability to pay on financial obligations such as credit cards, loans, mortgages, etc., the service member can have his/her interest rate capped at 6% for the duration of the service member’s military obligation.
Qualifying debts are debts that were incurred prior to the service member coming on active duty. The service member must be on active duty at the time of the request, and the service member’s military career must have materially affected the service member’s ability to pay on the debt. This provision does not apply to federally guaranteed student loans.
The service member should contact his/her creditor (in writing) and request that his/her interest rate be reduced to 6% according to the provisions of the SSCRA. While not actually required by the law, it's a good idea to include a copy of the military orders placing the member on active duty, as part of the request.
The burden is on the creditor to seek relief in court if the creditor believes that the service member’s military career does not materially affect his/her ability to pay.
A service member who is either the plaintiff or the defendant in a civil lawsuit may request a stay, postponement, of a court proceeding in which he/she is a party. A service member may request a stay at any point in the proceedings. However, courts are reluctant to grant stays at the pretrial phase of a lawsuit, such as discovery, depositions, etc. If a judgment is entered against a service member who is unavailable due to military orders, the service member may be able to have that judgment voided.
In order to apply for these protections the service member must actually be a party to the suit.
The provision only applies to civil lawsuits, separation / divorce, suits for paternity, child custody suits, and bankruptcy debtor/creditor meetings.
A service member should have his/her commander write a letter to the court and the opposing party’s attorney stating that the service member is unable to attend the proceedings. The member should not have an attorney draft such a letter to the court. A letter by an attorney could be considered an appearance by the service member and could subject the service member to the jurisdiction of the court.
Installment Contracts and Auto Leases
A service member or spouse may request protection under the SSCRA for pre-service debts incurred under installment contracts and auto leases. The service member or the spouse must prove that the service member’s military obligations have materially affected his/her ability to pay on the debts.
Also, at least one deposit or installment payment must have been made on the contract before entry on active duty. If the contract falls under the protection of the SSCRA, the creditor is thereafter prohibited from exercising any right or option under the contract, such as to rescind or terminate the contract or to repossess the property, unless authorized by a court order.
Enforcement of Obligations, Liabilities, Taxes
A service member or dependent may, at any time during his/her military service, or within 6 months thereafter, apply to a court for relief of any obligation or liability incurred by the service member or dependent prior to active duty or in respect to any tax or assessment whether falling during or prior to the service member’s active military service. The court may grant stays of enforcement during which time no fine or penalty can accrue.