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Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Simplified

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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.

During the Civil War, the United States Congress enacted an absolute moratorium on civil actions brought against Federal soldiers and sailors, and various southern states enacted similar legislation. During World War I, Congress passed the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1918. The 1918 statute did not create a moratorium on actions against service members, but it directed trial courts to take whatever action equity required when a service member's rights were involved in a controversy.

In 1940, the law was completely re-written, to expand legal protections to service members. 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. The act went on to receive several minor changes over the years.

In 2003, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act was completely re-written, and re-named the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The bill was signed into law by President Bush on December 19, 2003. This is the law that now governs legal protections for members of the United States Military.

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.

National Guard members recalled for State duty are also protected by the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act in certain circumstances. National Guard members are entitled to SCRA protection when called to state active duty under Title 32, if the duty is because of a federal emergency, the request for active duty is made by the President or Secretary of Defense, and the member is activated for longer than 30 days. An example of this would be the National Guard members who were activated by the states, at the request of the President, to provide security for airports after 9-11

Major Legal Protections

Termination of Residential Leases. The SCRA allows individuals to break a lease when they go onto active duty, if the lease was entered into before going onto active duty. Additionally, the act allows a servicemember to terminate a residential lease entered into while in the military, if the member receives permanent change of station (PCS) orders, or orders to deploy for a period of not less than 90 days.

This protection covers "lease of premises occupied, or intended to be occupied, by a servicemember or a servicemember's dependents for a residential, professional, business, agricultural, or similar purpose."

To break a lease under these provisions, the servicemember must make the request in writing, and must include a copy of their orders (orders placing them on active duty, PCS orders, or deployment orders). The member may deliver the notification by hand, by commercial carrier, or by mail (return receipt requested).

The termination date for a lease that requires monthly rent, the earliest termination date is 30 days after the first date on which the next payment is due, following proper notification of termination of lease. For example, if Sgt John pays his rent on the first of every month, and he notifies his landlord (and gives the landlord a copy of his orders), on the 18th of June, that he wishes to terminate the lease under the provisions of the SCRA, the earliest termination date 1 August (the next rent is due 1 July, and 30 days later is 1 August).

If it's some other arrangement, other than monthly rent, the earliest termination of the lease is the last day of the month, following the month in which the notice is given. So, if notice is given on 20 June, the earliest termination date would be 31 July.

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