Federal Law Assists Troops' Dealings With Creditors
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 29, 2005 – Federal law prohibits mortgage
lenders from immediately foreclosing on homes owned by servicemembers
deployed overseas on military duty, a senior legal officer
All servicemembers, including those deployed, are protected
under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, signed by President
Bush on Dec. 19, 2003, said Army Col. Christopher Garcia,
director of legal policy at the Office of the Undersecretary
of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
“The SCRA includes a provision that protects against default
judgment. In any civil action, such as a lawsuit or a foreclosure,
in which the defendant does not make an appearance, the court
must require the plaintiff bringing the suit to file an affidavit
saying whether or not the other party in the lawsuit is a
servicemember,” Garcia explained.
And, if the party being sued for foreclosure or some other
debt action is a servicemember, Garcia continued, “then the
SCRA requires the judge to do certain things to protect the
servicemember’s rights” under the law.
For example, he said, the courts “are required to stay the
court proceedings for a minimum of 90 days until the servicemember
can be present to assert a defense.” Most often, such court
cases are delayed until the servicemember has completed his
or her overseas deployment, Garcia pointed out.
Garcia said he had no specific information regarding recent
news reports saying some deployed servicemembers have had
their homes foreclosed on or had other assets seized in contradiction
to the law.
Business-community compliance with the SCRA “generally has
been very good,” Garcia noted. Yet, he acknowledged, there’ve
been “isolated cases of noncompliance.” This usually occurs,
Garcia said, “when a lender, or landlord, or other person
dealing with a servicemember is unaware of the law.”
After lenders and other creditors become aware of the law,
they usually comply with it, Garcia said.
All active, Reserve and Guard troops on active duty, Garcia
said, can contact their local military legal assistance officers
to assist them in enforcing SCRA-specified rights.
Servicemembers and their family members can personally visit
legal assistance offices. A legal assistance attorney can
“draft a letter or make a phone call,” he pointed out. If
the creditor refuses to comply with the SCRA, either the servicemember
can sue privately, or the Department of Justice can bring
an enforcement action in federal court.
The SCRA is an update to the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief
Act of 1940, which was established to provide protections
to deployed troops who have difficulty meeting their personal
financial and legal obligations due to their military service.