SOLDIER’S AND SAILORS CIVIL RELIEF ACT (SSCRA)
Professor Richard M. Alderman
The People's Lawyer
Our federal and state governments have long recognized the need to temporarily protect military personnel from certain legal matters. To meet this concern, Congress has enacted a statute known as Soldier's and Sailor's Civil Relief Acts. The goal is to ensure that our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Reservists, and members of the National Guard can focus on their military duties free from worry about civil proceedings on the homefront.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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. The provision only applies to civil lawsuits, 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.
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 LIABILITIES, OBLIGATIONS, AND 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.
There are no provisions for Reemployment Rights as part of the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act. Reemployment rights are a completely separate legislation, found in The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). For a copy of this legislation, go to http://usmilitary.about.com/library/weekly/aa101302a.htm
For more information on the SSCRA, visit:
For a copy of the actual SSCRA statute, visit http://leav-www.army.mil/osja/la/sscra.pdf