A member of the Point Ruston development team and his wife have settled accusations that they mistreated two military servicemembers over a rental agreement involving a condominium they own in another part of Tacoma.
The federal Department of Justice accused Loren and Holland Cohen of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act when they didn’t return their tenants’ security deposit and demanded future rents after the tenants had to break their lease because they were being transferred from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The Cohens, according to the Justice Department, claimed the tenants had not complied with the law’s “technical notice of termination provisions.”
Cohen, an attorney, is a leader of the development team that’s building Point Ruston, a $1.2-billion urban village on the site of the former Asarco smelter. There, the development team is embroiled in an ongoing dispute with the City of Ruston and the federal Environmental Protection Agency over interpretations of local land-use rules and federal environmental law.
The situation involving the Cohens is the first time the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Washington has gotten involved in a rental dispute involving servicemembers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Diaz said Tuesday. Such landlord-tenant disputes involving the military usually are resolved informally. The case is part of a national push by the Justice Department to protect the rights of servicemembers.
The Justice Department got involved in this case in April 2014 when JBLM’s legal affairs office referred the case.
In March 2013, Staff Sgt. Marquis Bines and Tech. Sgt. Meoisha Bines rented a 1,500-square-foot condo at Hawthorne Hill, overlooking downtown Tacoma on East 32nd Street. In November of that year, the couple were transferred from JBLM to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. They provided notice to their landlord and requested the return of their $2,150 security deposit.
Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, military members can terminate a lease without penalty when they receive a permanent change of station order. The Cohens claimed the Bineses had not given notice properly. The Cohens not only refused to refund the deposit, they demanded $10,750 for the rent owed for the remainder of the lease.
The Bineses asked for legal assistance from JBLM, which referred the case to the U.S. Attorney after no resolution could be reached. The U.S. Attorney concluded that the Cohens “unreasonably” refused to return the security deposit and “illegally” demanded further rental payments.
“The law provides that landlords have a legal obligation to ensure servicemembers can move freely when military duty demands it,” U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes said in a news release.
In late April, the Cohens agreed to pay the Bineses $4,000. The settlement agreement requires the Cohens to include a notice for the next two years in any advertising or other material about the condo: “We comply with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and welcome servicemembers as applicants for tenancy.”