DoD Delays Final Protections for Military Families in Housing Tenant Bill of Rights -- Again

 Stars and Stripes | By Rose L. Thayer

The remaining protections of the tenant bill of rights that Congress mandated for military families living in on-base housing will be delayed again -- this time until Sept. 30, the Defense Department announced Friday.

Lawmakers in 2019 outlined 18 rights to guarantee families leased homes on military bases that met a specific quality standard, had a clear path to handle disputes with the private companies that manage base housing, and could easily understand leases and past maintenance of a residence. The reform followed a series of news reports that highlighted military families sometimes faced dangerous conditions, including lead paint, asbestos and mold, water leaks, and pest and rodent infestations.

Those reports have continued and at least a dozen lawsuits have been filed against some of the private companies that manage base housing in partnership with the service branches.

The most recent deadline to implement the full tenant bill of rights was June 1, about one year later than originally scheduled following passage in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020.

All but four of the tenant rights have been implemented so far. The remaining four are the right to withhold rent until disputes are resolved, a clearly defined dispute resolution process, seven years of maintenance history records and a standard lease.

The Defense Department has issued the necessary policy guidance for the changes, but now must finalize negotiations with housing companies, said Paul Cramer, acting assistant defense secretary for sustainment and chief housing officer.

Because the companies are signed into existing long-term contracts with the military, the Defense Department said it "can't unilaterally change the terms of the complex, public-private partnerships." It must get the 14 companies to voluntarily agree to the changes.

"With few exceptions," the Defense Department should have agreements by the end of September, Cramer said. Many are providing all but the universal lease, he said.

The universal lease will standardize the general content of leases at each military base "to the maximum extent possible." Some variance is needed to comply with state and local requirements. Military families should expect to see the standardized documents by their next, permanent change-of-station move, according to the Defense Department.

"Military members and their families who are tenants of [privatized] housing should check with the property manager or the government's installation housing office to confirm which of the tenant rights have been implemented at their installation," Cramer said.

If the housing companies do not comply with the tenant rights, the government has recourse through the existing operating agreement, Cramer told the House Appropriations Committee's subpanel on military construction in February. He did not describe the recourse.


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