This could have been the shortest Legal Information Article ever written. If you are being evicted you really need to call the JAG office immediately. End of article.
In all seriousness, calling the JAG office really should be the first thing you do if you are being evicted. Still, knowing your rights is a good idea.
First, in many states, evictions cannot be done without a court order -- and in all states, thanks to federal law, a court order is required for an eviction if the servicemember is deployed. That means that if the landlord changes the locks or moves all the furniture out to the street without a signed order from the court, they are breaking the law.
So, before you can be evicted, you must be notified of a court action, have a hearing in court, and have the court decide on your case. As soon as you receive an eviction notice (usually nailed to your door), you should contact JAG. Depending on the situation, you may be protected. Also, the sooner you contact JAG, the better the chances that they will be able to assist you.
But is that the only kind of eviction? Hardly.
Enter: “constructive eviction.” Constructive eviction is when the landlord makes life so difficult for the tenant that the tenant is forced to move out.
That can happen in several ways. For example, the landlord can harass the tenant to the point where they decide to leave. Another kind of constructive eviction is when the landlord makes the apartment unlivable, by turning off the heat or power, for example. It can also occur through neglect when some damage becomes so severe that it is no longer comfortable or safe to remain in the apartment.
Needless to say, these actions are not legal, and there are many options open to the tenant who is being “constructively evicted.” If you think this is happening to you, consulting an attorney is really your first course of action.
As always, most problems with landlords can be resolved with good communications. When you feel that communications have broken down or when something serious happens, you should contact an attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. The earlier you contact an attorney, the better the chances for a positive resolution. As military families you have the right to free legal assistance at the JAG office.
Captain Matthew “Matt” Reid, is an Army Judge Advocate currently the full time Attorney Advisor for the Rhode Island. Prior to direct commissioning into the JAG Corps, he served as an enlisted intelligence analyst for 10 years.