On December 19, 2003, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (the "SCRA") was enacted to update and replace the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act (the "SSCRA"). With America's current military deployment in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, an overhaul of the SSCRA, enacted in 1940, was necessary to modernize the existing law to bring it into step with present-day life in America. The basic premise of the SSCRA is still intact in the new law: protection for active duty military personnel against financial or legal difficulties that may interfere with their invaluable service to the United States.
The SCRA has extended the period for a stay of civil action proceedings to ninety (90) days for defendants who are in military service if requested by the defendant servicemember, his or her counsel, or the court. Previously, a stay of civil action proceedings was up to the court's discretion.
In addition, the SCRA provides the right for a servicemember in active military service to terminate a lease of property occupied, or intended to be occupied, by a servicemember or his/her dependents for residential, professional, business, agricultural, or similar purposes if the servicemember receives military orders for a permanent change of station or deployment orders for a period of at least ninety (90) days. This new development effectively negates the need for a military termination clause in leases.
In response to the growing number of National Guard members called to active service in the current military climate, the SCRA has declared that a National Guard member who has been called to active service for a period of more than thirty (30) consecutive days be included in its definition of "military service." Accordingly, National Guard members may now benefit from the SCRA while on an extended assignment serving their country.
Other new benefits gained from the SCRA include:
- Clarification of the six percent (6%) interest rate cap rule on debts incurred prior to military service by stating that interest in excess of the six percent (6%) cap will be forgiven (Note: the servicemember must provide written notice to the creditor along with a copy of the military orders to receive this treatment);
- Addition of provision for termination of an automobile lease by a servicemember or the servicemember's dependents if the servicemember receives deployment orders for a period of at least one hundred eighty (180) days; and
- Modification of the eviction standards for servicemembers and their families' residences by increasing the monthly rent amount from $1,200.00 to $2,400.00 as the cap amount for the disallowance of eviction without a court order.
Unchanged Features of the SCRA
All protections given in the previous SSCRA for mortgage foreclosure continue in the new SCRA. Accordingly, no foreclosure is considered valid if made during a period of military service or within three (3) months of such military service absent a court order or waiver by the servicemember.
The statute of limitations calculation in the former SSCRA is also still present in the SCRA. The period of military service may not be included when calculating a statute of limitations period, including the period for redemption of real property sold to enforce an obligation, tax, or assessment.
Through enactment of the SCRA, the United States has demonstrated its commitment to recognize the special sacrifices and duties undertaken by all branches and levels of military personnel by strengthening and expanding upon the former SSCRA. The SCRA, like its predecessor, enables service men and women to fully concentrate on the rigors of their jobs without being under the pressure or constant worry of domestic concerns or problems. There is no way to measure the comfort and security that the military gives to our nation; consequently, it is imperative and just for our nation's laws to return the favor and provide some much-needed comfort to our deployed military service men and women in their personal lives back home.