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New rule protects renters when landlord defaults
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WASHINGTON -- A new change to the Joint Federal Travel Regulations authorizes the military to pay to move servicemembers and their families whose landlords default on property the military members are renting.

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy and chairman of the Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee, approved the change Aug. 8, said Eileen Lainez, a Defense Department spokeswoman.

The change is retroactive to July 30, the date President Bush signed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. That law strengthened regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac government-backed mortgage companies and created a new program to help about 400,000 families save their homes from foreclosure.

The federal regulation change is designed to help military servicemembers forced to relocate locally when landlords default on their mortgages, Lainez said. It does not apply to military members who own their own homes and default on their loans.

Army Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, a Pentagon spokesman, said the change will come as welcome news to the high percentage of servicemembers who rent rather than buy their homes due to frequent moves. While more than 65 percent of Americans own their homes, only about 25 percent of servicemembers are homeowners, he said.

Because they rent their residences at disproportionately high numbers, servicemembers haven't been impacted as heavily by the foreclosure crisis facing many communities, he said. But anecdotal evidence indicates that a growing number experience the second-hand effects of the crisis when their landlords default and they are forced to quickly find new housing nearby.

"When that happens, the servicemember should not have to incur the cost of the move," Melnyk said. "This change in the Joint Federal Travel Regulation ensures that they are financially protected when this happens and shows that we as a department care about our troops and their welfare."

Melnyk encouraged servicemembers who believe the new JFTR change may help them to contact their housing or administrative officers. In addition, he urged all servicemembers to take advantage of free legal and financial counseling offered at all military installations and through the Military OneSource Web site.

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