Military housing company settles after illegally charging servicemembers to break leases
By AARON KNOWLES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 2, 2018
A private company that manages military housing in New Jersey will pay more than $62,000 after unlawfully charging servicemembers for terminating their leases when they received orders to relocate, the Justice Department said.
United Communities LLC charged early termination fees to at least 13 servicemembers ranging from $138 to $3,100 in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the Justice Department said in a statement last week.
Servicemembers are protected under the SCRA from being charged a fee when they move because of military orders.
United Communities, which oversees property at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., must pay $45,002 in damages to 13 servicemembers and a $17,500 civil penalty under terms of a settlement, according to the statement.
The Justice Department began its investigation after a complaint through Air Force legal services by Army Capt. Gregory Funk, who received orders to deploy to Qatar with five months remaining on his lease in 2016.
Funk paid about $900 to United Communities to terminate the lease before filing the complaint. The Justice Department investigation found that United Communities had offered move-in incentives that required reimbursement upon early termination. Funk was offered a month of free rent in an email to sign a lease, but the offer was not included in the contract, according to the court complaint.
The conditional incentives violated the SCRA, the Justice Department said.
“Members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and servicemembers nationwide, have the right to terminate their leases without penalty when their military orders send them elsewhere,” acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said in a statement. “We appreciate United Communities’ cooperation with the Department to compensate affected servicemembers. We are resolute in our commitment to vigorously enforce the SCRA on behalf of our men and women in uniform.”