Owners of two apartment complexes in San Antonio, Texas, will pay more than $71,000 to 41 military tenants, under settlement terms of a lawsuit involving fees charged for early termination of leases. The properties – owned by Western Rim Investors 2011-4, L.P., and Western Rim Investors 2011-3, L.P., are situated within 10 miles of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The two companies also must pay a $64,715 fine, the Justice Department announced Sept. 28.
The lawsuit contended that the two landlords violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which allows military personnel to terminate leases once they join the armed forces or receive orders requiring them to move before their leases expire. In this case, the companies used fine print in the lease agreements to justify leveeing “concession chargeback” fees that ranged from $116 to $1,012 per service member. The suit also contended that the companies denied early termination altogether for four other military members.
The companies contended that the leases in question – specifically, clauses therein that waived tenants’ rights under the SCRA – were typical of those approved by the state’s apartment association. The Justice Department countered that the waiver was invalid largely because it was contained in the lease itself rather than in a separate document and supported no additional benefits to the tenants.
“This settlement sends a warning to apartment associations and landlords that they cannot avoid their obligations under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act simply by pointing to fine print in boilerplate lease agreements,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “Our men and women in uniform risk their lives and liberty to preserve our freedom, and we enjoy liberty and security because of their sacrifices.”