U.S. military families living on base housing find themselves at the whims of powerful private landlords as they battle mold, mice, mushroom and cockroach infestations, a blockbuster Reuters investigation details.
On the sprawling Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, California, one Marine family claimed they complained of a mice infestation to the Lincoln Military Housing, a private company that controls most of Pendleton’s base housing, Reuters reported.
The couple subsequently was billed $1,084 from Lincoln to clean up a contaminated carpet after several attempts to rid the property of mice; Lincoln claims the infestation was a result of the Marine family’s poor housekeeping, Reuters reported.
“When families have concerns or problems, there is a clear process for escalating complaints to our company and other private partners, housing officers in the military, and ultimately the base command,” Lincoln Military Housing said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. “Our goal and responsibility ― and that of the military ― is to ensure military families have safe, secure and quality housing and we both take that responsibility very seriously.”
But it’s one example of more than 100 families across Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force bases that detailed to Reuters their hardships in dealing with private companies and landlords controlling the military base housing industry, which is estimated to bring in $3.9 billion in military housing stipends in 2018.
The problem, according to Reuters: Military families have few rights and resources to take on mega private companies.
Tenant rights are set by contracts between the military and private landlords that can give control of base housing for 50 years, Reuters reported. But those contracts lack basic protections generally afforded to civilians. In California, for example, tenants can get out of leases in substandard housing or have their rent reduced to pay for damages and repairs.
A couple of the biggest problems military families faced living in base housing was rodents and mold, and nearly twenty families described outbreaks of mold, Reuters detailed in its investigation.
But Lincoln says that overall, mold-related issues were less than 1 percent of the service requests it received in 2017.
“Of those work orders, most were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction in only one visit,” Lincoln said.
“In satisfaction surveys conducted by a third party company, residents at all housing installations collectively rated Lincoln as either ‘outstanding’ or ‘very good’ over the past five years. Residents rated our maintenance resolution service as ‘outstanding.’"
One Army family living in base housing at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, from 2016-2017, said they were fighting cockroaches, a leaky ceiling and mice, according to Reuters.
“They are in our ventilation system through our air vents, peeing and pooping everywhere,” Kimberly Strauf, the wife of an Army officer, told Reuters.
The infestations can pose serious health issues.
Some of the families on Camp Pendleton living in base housing operated by Lincoln shared letters from doctors with Reuters asking housing officials to investigate.
One 3-year-old had been in the doctor’s office “7 times with respiratory related illnesses,” a doctor’s note said, as reported by Reuters. “I am concerned that the mold in the home is a contributing factor,” the note said.
Reuters reported that commanders at Camp Pendleton are relatively powerless to solve some of the housing issues and lack enforcement powers.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.