WASHINGTON — Servicemembers who pay less than $2,615 in rent each month cannot be evicted from their apartments without a court order, under guidelines updated by the Defense Department this month.

The rule covers all active-duty troops and reservists called to active duty living in the United States, according to Army Col. Christopher Garcia, director of legal policy for the department’s personnel and readiness office. The rent maximum was raised from last year’s $2,400 cap in accordance with the federal inflation index.

The protection is part of revisions passed three years ago to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, designed to provide military personnel safeguards with housing costs and other financial issues.

Garcia said that under the act servicemembers or their families cannot be forced out of their rental property due to unpaid bills or other conflicts. The act requires landlords to obtain a court order to start the eviction process, insuring that the proper legal process has been followed.

That’s a significant legal protection for military personnel, according to Alan Pentico, spokesman for the San Diego County Apartment Association. Under California law, nonmilitary renters can be evicted with written notification and only 30 days notice, giving them few chances to appeal.

He said a typical apartment in the San Diego area costs around $1,500 a month, but houses for rent in the city can easily run close to $2,600 monthly.

Garcia said the rent cap is designed to separate the troops who have some financial stability from those more vulnerable.

“At a gut level, if you have someone paying $30,000 for rent each year you probably don’t need extra protection,” he said. “But the guy who’s just scraping together a few hundred dollars each month could need that help.”

Garcia said legal assistance is available through the individual services’ JAG offices for all military personnel who believe their landlord has violated the law.

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