Following visits to military housing units, where they saw firsthand some of the problems military families are facing, the service secretaries have announced a joint tenant bill of rights to help address the problems.

Included in those rights will be the ability for rent payments to be withheld from the property manager while the resident’s dispute is being heard by a neutral decision maker. Once a decision is made, it could result in a refund to the resident of that rent, which is generally the Basic Allowance for Housing.

The service secretaries made the announcement on the eve of a hearing where they will answer questions from senators about the chain of command’s accountability for providing safe housing for service members and their families.

During a hearing Feb. 13, military spouses suggested to senators that one way to get privatized housing officials to fix problems like mold, termites, mice and other issues would be to allow families to withhold rent payments until the issues are resolved.

The spouses testified about their difficulties in getting the companies to take their complaints seriously — even as black mold was growing out of walls, floors and ceilings, and entire families were getting sick. There was also difficulty determining who, if anyone, in the military establishment was holding the companies accountable.

Since that hearing, the services have scrambled to hold installation town hall meetings and inspect housing in efforts to assess the problems.

The tenant bill of rights “is intended to increase the accountability of privatized housing companies by putting more oversight authority in the hands of local military leaders,” stated a joint press release issued by Army Secretary Mark Esper, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

This step is to remedy the problems the service secretaries have seen by “protecting and empowering” service members and their families, according to the joint press release.

The tenants’ rights will be enforced through renegotiated leases with the privatized housing companies, and will be implemented in the coming weeks, according to press release.

Among other things, tenants will have the right to:

  • Safe and healthy homes and communities, with working fixtures, appliances and utilities and well-maintained common areas.
  • A housing advocate designated by the installation chain of command to be their advocate before the landlord.
  • Effective methods of two-way communication with the landlord and maintenance staff, with honest and responsive communications from those staffs.
  • Prompt, professional repairs. If life, health and safety repairs are not finished within 30 days, the resident will be offered a no-cost move into an alternative residence on the installation or in the civilian community.
  • A process for dispute resolution, mediation and arbitration. A decision in favor of the resident will include a determination of any reduction in rent that’s owed by the landlord to be paid to the resident.
  • No reprisal if the residents engage government housing staff or the installation chain of command regarding housing issues.
  • Professional property management services that meet or exceed industry standards.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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