Military families are seeing some progress in their fight for tenant rights
MilitaryTimes| By:Karen Jowers and Kyle Rempfer
Some military housing tenants are seeing incremental progress in getting more of the remaining four provisions in the tenant bill of rights.
Army officials are putting into place a pilot program that will test their system of providing seven years of a unit’s maintenance history to tenants, according to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.
“We’re going to be able to provide that to a sizable tranche of homes, so we’re moving on that one,” he said Oct. 15, during a call with reporters.
Service and DoD officials are also “finalizing” the common lease document that will be used for military families across the privatized housing projects, McCarthy said. But the remaining two — a dispute resolution process, and a process for withholding rent during dispute resolutions — are taking longer, he said.
Further details weren’t available from Army officials about the timing of the pilot and the locations that are providing maintenance histories. Information wasn’t available from Defense Department officials about pilot programs at other services' installations.
However, Sarah Kline, an advocate in the Military Housing Advocacy Network, said she has heard from families at some of the locations where maintenance histories are being provided: Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., and Monterey, Calif.
Providing a unit’s maintenance history is one of 18 rights for tenants required by law, as part of comprehensive reform provisions to address pervasive issues with mold, rodents, and other health, safety and environmental hazards in privatized military housing.
In 2019, military spouses testified before lawmakers about black mold growing out of the walls, rodents, and water leaks in their family housing, and their frustration dealing with landlords and the military to get it fixed. A number of families have told Military Times they’ve been contacted by previous tenants of their house who said the problems went unaddressed when they lived there, too.
Kline said her organization would have liked to see the maintenance histories being provided by now. "Service members and their families are continuing to move into homes with systemic issues,” Kline said. “They are left trying to put the pieces together when issues present themselves without the knowledge of the home’s history. After nearly 10 months since the signing of the [Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act], a full roll out of the work order history that includes all ‘notes’ about each work order to all [privatized housing] residents is what the Military Housing Advocacy Network would have like to have seen implemented.”
McCarthy said he thinks service officials will have at least 16 of the 18 tenant bill of rights provisions completed before the end of the year.
In June, defense officials announced that 14 of the 18 provisions under the tenant bill of rights were in place. The four remaining are deemed by many military families to be the most critical: common forms and documents for all housing tenants; dispute resolution; withholding of rent during dispute resolutions; and access to the maintenance history of their housing unit.
Lawmakers have pushed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for answers on the status of key protections for tenants of military housing which haven’t been put into place yet.
“The remaining two are going to be tough. In particular, the dispute resolution,” McCarthy said. “What we’re looking at with the dispute resolution is, can we find a third party that would be like the arbiter between the company and the soldier in this case. So we’re looking at a way to complete that, but…. We’re moving ahead,” he said.
“We need to make sure that the person that’s the arbiter is truly a third party, [one who] doesn’t have equity on one side or the other of the equation.”
Officials are working through the issues with the privatized housing companies, as well as with the congressional committees who have oversight, McCarthy said. “I can appreciate why they would want to make sure they get that right. We want to get it right, too.”
Most tenants in military privatized housing now officially have 14 of the 18 rights designed to ensure safe, quality and well-maintained homes, according to a memorandum sent to tenants in June.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FRA.