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Federal law protects Airmen’s rights during service

Staff Sgt. Derek Wooten, a paralegal in the 88th Air Base Wing Legal Office, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, shows on June 16 how the Legal clinic has been modified to protect clients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the declared public health emergency on base, in-person consultations are limited to specific situations at this time at this time. (Skywrighter photo/Amy Rollins)

Staff Sgt. Derek Wooten, a paralegal in the 88th Air Base Wing Legal Office, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, shows on June 16 how the Legal clinic has been modified to protect clients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the declared public health emergency on base, in-person consultations are limited to specific situations at this time at this time. (Skywrighter photo/Amy Rollins)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- With the introduction of the permanent change of station season, Airmen should know their rights.

Service members’ rights are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a law designed to ease financial burdens on service members during periods of military service.

SCRA is a federal law that provides protections for military members as they enter active duty and continues to protect them during their service. It covers issues such as rental agreements, security deposits, prepaid rent, evictions, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates, mortgage foreclosures, civil judicial proceedings, automobile leases, life insurance, health insurance and income tax payments.

All active-duty members and their dependents are covered by SCRA, as well as Guard and Reserve personnel on Title 10 orders, and Guard on Title 32 for more than 30 days for the purpose of a national emergency. SCRA applies when an individual enters military service and ends on the date the member is released from service or is deceased, plus 30 days to two years, depending on the provision of the act at issue.

“The 88th Air Base Wing Legal Office wants to remind service members that they do have some protections during this time,” said 1st Lt. Carlos Plazas, legal assistance intern. “It’s very case-by-case specific, but we want to let personnel know that the things that can hurt their pocket or timeline are protected by SCRA. If they have individualized, situation-based questions, the Legal Office is available to help.”

“Legal assistance services are currently limited to deployment-related support, issues related to impacts of COVID-19, PCS issues and other emergency legal issues,” said Capt. Krystal Gurnell, chief of legal assistance.

When it comes to leasing residential housing:

■  Service members, spouses and children may not be evicted absent a court order from a leased dwelling for which the rent does not exceed housing price inflation adjustment (currently $3,991 per month).

■  A landlord may not seize the personal property of the tenant without a court order during a member’s military service.

■  A member may terminate a pre-service residential lease any time after entry to the service.

■  Once in service, a member can end their residential lease any time after a member receives PCS or deployment orders for more than 90 days. Ending the lease requires providing the landlord with written notice and a copy of the orders. No early termination fees may be charged. For leases paid monthly, once written notice and orders are given to the landlord, the effective date of termination is 30 days after the next payment due date.

When it comes to leasing a vehicle:

■  Active-duty members may terminate a vehicle lease during service if the member receives orders for an OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.) PCS or a deployment for more than 180 days.

■  Guard and Reserve may terminate their lease at any time before or during term of lease if they receive any orders for more than 180 days. Early termination fees are prohibited for early lease cancellations arising from military duties.

When it comes 
to contracts:

■  Members may not have property repossessed or an installment contract unilaterally terminated before or during service without a court order if a deposit or installment payment was made before entering military service.

■  Cell phone, internet and cable TV contracts: Service members may terminate such contracts if they receive orders to relocate for more than 90 days to a location that does not support the service.

No early termination fees may be charged. Members must provide a notice of termination to the cell phone, internet or cable TV provider along with a copy of their orders and the date the member is asking to end his or her contract.

■  Mortgages: During the period of military service and within one year after service ends, service members may not have property sold, foreclosed or seized that originated prior to military service and for which still obligated, and is secured by mortgage, deed or other security, except by court order or pursuant to written agreement.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide a general overview of the law. It is not intended to be comprehensive and should not be considered legal advice.

For questions, contact an attorney. While the Legal Office is limiting legal assistance as a result of COVID-19, it stands ready to assist those in need.

For people with a qualifying situation, contact the 88 ABW Legal Office at 937-257-6142 or 88ABW.JA@us.af.mil.