The owner of an apartment complex near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, has agreed to pay a combined $76,516 to 65 service members to resolve allegations that the complex charged them extra fees in order to terminate their leases for military reasons.
The Justice Department announced the settlement agreement with Twin Creek Apartments LLC, that was filed Tuesday in federal court in Nebraska. It’s part of an ongoing enforcement of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Since 2011, Justice officials have obtained more than $467 million for service members through these enforcement actions.
The 65 service members paid charges ranging from $72 to $1,498 to Twin Creek Apartments. According to the settlement agreement, Twin Creek has agreed to refund that money (divided equally between those listed on the lease); and to pay an additional payment of two times the amount of the refund, paid entirely to the service member. So the payments would range from $216 to $4,494.
The company must also request that the credit reporting bureaus remove all negative entries that were made because of unpaid amounts that were related to the alleged early termination charges. Company officials must also develop training policies and procedures regarding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and submit them to Justice officials for approval.
Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, landlords can’t charge an early termination fee, including concession fees, when the service member exercises his or her right to end the lease because of deployment or receiving orders to move to a new duty station.
Justice Department officials alleged that Twin Creek required the service members to repay rent concessions they received during the course of their leases. But Justice officials alleged that these required repayments constituted early termination charges, which are prohibited under the SCRA.
Officials began their investigation following a referral from the Air Force Community Legal Services office. The fees were charged to service members between January 2012 and June 15, 2017, according to the complaint filed in federal court. At least eight military members were charged between $520 and $640 for terminating their leases one month before the leases were to end, officials alleged.
Offutt Air Force Base hosts Air Combat Command’s largest wing, the 55th, whose mission is global information and electronic warfare dominance. It is also home to U.S. Strategic Command.
The settlement agreement states that Twin Creek denies that it violated the SCRA or any other federal, state or local statute or regulation. The agreement specifies that nothing in the agreement should be interpreted as a finding that the company violated any of those laws or regulations.
“Twin Creek fully supports the rights of our military personnel and greatly appreciates their service to our country,” stated Scott P. Moore, an attorney representing the company, in an email to Military Times.
“Twin Creek disputes the Department of Justice’s allegations and that it violated the law in any way. Twin Creek agreed to settle this matter to avoid the cost of defending a complaint brought by the Department of Justice.”
“We appreciate Twin Creek’s cooperation with the department to reach a settlement,” stated Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore in the Sept. 11 announcement. “The Justice Department continues to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect the rights of service members, veterans and their families.”
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and U. S. attorneys’ office conduct enforcement actions related to the SCRA.
Military members and their dependents who believe their rights have been violated should contact their nearest Armed Forces legal assistance program office.