ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WRIC) — The Justice Department (DOJ) announced today that two Virginia landlords have agreed to pay $225,000 in order to resolve allegations that they mistreated military tenants at their properties in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
An investigation was reportedly launched after a Navy attorney reported that the owner of a Chesapeake apartment complex had obtained an eviction default judgment against a servicemember after filing an affidavit that falsely stated she was not in military service.
“Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), if a landlord files a civil lawsuit against a tenant and the tenant does not appear in court, the landlord must file an affidavit with the court stating whether the tenant is in the military before seeking a judgment,” according to a release from the DOJ. “If the affidavit says that the tenant is in military service, the court cannot enter judgment until it appoints an attorney to represent the servicemember. The court must also postpone the case for at least 90 days.”
According to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, it is alleged that the owners of Hideaway at Greenbrier and Chase Arbor Apartments filed false affidavits to obtain eviction judgments against multiple servicemembers. Both properties are affiliated and used the same law firm to file eviction claims.
The documents further allege that the landlords knew, or should have known, that the affidavits were inaccurate because their files contained information that would have allowed them to easily verify their tenants’ military statuses.
“Eviction judgments seriously jeopardize a servicemember’s ability to find and obtain affordable housing and negatively impact the financial readiness of our armed forces,” said Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The department will vigorously pursue any landlord that obtains eviction judgments against servicemembers by misrepresenting their military status to the court.”
The property owners have agreed to pay $162,971 to the affected servicemembers, as well as a $62,029 civil penalty to the United States. The order, which still must be approved by the court, also requires the owners to vacate the eviction judgments, repair the servicemembers’ credit and provide SCRA training to their employees.