DoJ prosecutes first-ever tenant-landlord dispute under SCRA

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
A Virginia landlord fought the law and the law won.

When the landlord failed to return prepaid rent and security deposits to Col. Deborah Bean, 78th Air Base Wing vice commander, she was in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The landlord was prosecuted by the Department of Justice, becoming the first-ever lawsuit involving a landlord-tenant matter brought by the DoJ under the SCRA.

"The SCRA gives a lot of protection to servicemembers, and the federal government has shown they will enforce it," Colonel Bean said. "People should really be encouraged by that and should know their rights and fully understand what their protections are."

Colonel Bean initially brought the case to Debby Stone of the Legal Office's civil law division. When an official letter to the landlord went ignored, Stone began seeking other avenues, eventually persuading the Justice Department to take the case.

"Her persistence was unbelievable - never taking no for an answer, always finding another door to knock on," Bean said. "It was very impressive."

What made Bean's case so attractive to the DoJ were the meticulous records that were kept.

"The big learning point for anyone who rents is to do everything you can to document communications," Bean said. "At the end of the process when the landlord elected to break the law and keep our security deposits, then we had all communications saved."

Stone agreed the Beans were "model clients" because they kept perfect records. But she said she'd work just as hard for anyone whose rights were violated.

"We've always gone above and beyond," she said. "We've always tried to do as much as we can for our clients. It's really great when we get a client we are able to help and who is willing to pursue it, to fight for their rights."

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.

"I think landlords do this all the time just because they think they can get away with it," Stone said. "Thank heavens we have the Justice Department that can step in and protect our servicemembers."