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Focus on the Law: Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

Replacing previous federal law known as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) primarily expands protections for active duty members of the armed forces.   Found in the Appendix of Title 50 of the United States Code, Sections 501-596, the law protects members of the uniformed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard) who are on active duty;  members of the National Guard who under a call to active service for a period of more than 30 consecutive days;  and members  who are commissioned officers of the Public Health Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on active service.  The protection generally ends within 30 to 90 days of discharge from active duty.

One important provision of SCRA is that a covered servicemember may have some protection from eviction.  If the servicemember and his or her dependents occupy a rental house or apartment and the rent does not exceed $2975.54 (as of 2011 and adjusted for inflation)  per month, the landlord must obtain a court order authorizing eviction.  This is true regardless of whether the property was rented before or after entry into the military service.  The court is permitted to grant a stay of up to three months or enter any other “order as may be just” if service in the military materially affects the servicemember’s ability to pay the rent.

A person holding a lien on the personal property or effects of a servicemember  may not foreclose or enforce such a lien during any period of military service of the servicemember and for 90 days thereafter.  A court order must be granted before foreclosure or enforcement of such a lien.  Additionally, servicemembers who entered into installment contracts for the purchase of real or personal property prior to entry into active duty are protected under the Act if the servicemember’s ability to make the installment payments is materially affected by the military service.   In those circumstances, foreclosure and repossession are prohibited without a court order.

The amount of interest that may be charged on debts of servicemembers is limited to 6 percent while on active duty.  The interest in excess of 6 percent may not become due once the servicemember leaves active duty and is permanently forgiven.  In addition, the monthly payment on credit obligations must be reduced by the amount of interest saved during the covered period.

A servicemember may waive his or her rights and protections under SCRA in writing.  The written agreement must be a document separate from the legal instrument to which the waiver applies.  The written agreement must identify the party concerned by the waiver.  A waiver is only effective if made pursuant to a written agreement of the parties executed during or after the servicemember’s period of military service.

A final major protection of SCRA is protection from losing life or health insurance that was in effect on the day before the servicemember is called into active duty military service, deployment or overseas tours of duty.   A servicemember is entitled to reinstatement of any health insurance in effect on the day before he or she was called into active duty and was terminated during the period of such service.  Servicemembers’ private life insurance is protected against lapse, termination, and forfeiture for nonpayment of premiums or indebtedness for the period of military service plus two years. The insured or beneficiary  must apply to the Veteran’s Administration for this particular protection.

 

Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. Her office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.

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