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Property management company forced to pay $1.5 million for wrongfully evicting service members

House with an American flag. (Pexels/Released)

A property management company in Virginia must pay nearly $1.5 million to 127 service members who were wrongfully evicted, the Justice Department announced Monday.

The Justice Department discovered PRG Real Estate Management had evicted tenants from 2006 to 2017 without disclosing to state courts that they were active-duty service members, a violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The federal law protects service members from getting evicted while on active duty and allows them to break rental contracts when they deploy or are relocated.

Under a settlement reached with the Justice Department, the property management company must also pay $35,000 to 10 service members who were charged termination fees for breaking their leases early after they were given military orders. An additional $62,000 will go to the federal government as a civil penalty, bringing the total to about $1.6 million.

The settlement is the largest that a property management company has had to pay for breaking the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the Justice Department said.

“The incredible sacrifices our service members make when they deploy and move frequently should never create financial or legal hardships for them,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “This settlement helps ensure that these men and women are honored for, not disadvantaged by, their military service, and that service members’ rights are protected going forward.”

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The service members were tenants at Linkhorn Bay Apartments and The Courtyards of Chanticleer in Virginia Beach, the Hilton Village Townhomes and Heritage Trace Apartments in Newport News and Hyde Park Apartments and Ashton Creek Apartments in Chester.

An independent administrator will be tasked with locating the service members who are eligible to receive portions of the settlement.

The Justice Department said that since 2011, it’s obtained more than $470 million for about 119,000 service members through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. In 2016, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch added more resources to investigate and prosecute such cases.

“This substantial settlement clearly sends the message that the Department of Justice is committed to the vigorous enforcement of federal laws that protect service members,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement. “When landlords violate the SCRA, it causes disruption in the lives of service members and their families.”

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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