It said a federal law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), protects military personnel who must terminate leases “after receiving qualifying military orders.”
“Servicemembers should not have to pay any fees — much less exorbitant fees — to landlords when they are simply complying with their military orders and protecting our country,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement.
JAG oversees a 490-unit complex in Mount Laurel, and has at least 20 similar properties in other states, according to a consent order resolving the dispute.
The company denied the government’s claims, and said the suit was settled to “avoid costly and protracted litigation.”
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Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects tenants in the military
U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb approved the settlement on Wednesday, Oct. 4, in Camden federal court.
Under the settlement, JAG is to pay $41,581 in damages to nine servicemembers and a $20,000 civil penalty to the government.
The agreement requires JAG to observe the law, to train its employees in its requirements, and to inform military personnel about SCRA when they’re entering into a lease.
According to the Justice Department’s lawsuit, a Coast Guard lieutenant was told — two months after leaving Jefferson Mount Laurel for a new post in Connecticut — to repay a $2,100 rent concession to the South Jersey complex.
The Coast Guard member, Daniel Pereira, informed JAG about the federal law and cited prior Justice Department cases on similar issues.
But JAG reported the debt to credit agencies and Pereira’s credit score was downgraded, the government’s complaint said.
It alleged JAG also charged illegal fees to members of the Army, Air Force, and Air National Guard.
Since 2011, the Justice Department said, it has obtained more than $481 million for more than 146,000 servicemembers through its enforcement of the law.
Jim Walsh is a senior reporter at the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. Email: [email protected].