Fort Meade military families are suing their privatized housing landlord in federal court, claiming the company failed to address their problems with mold, leaks and other issues, leaving them stuck in houses with puddling water, rotting wood, rampant mold and other unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Maryland Tuesday against Corvias Management-Army, LLC, and Meade Communities, LLC on behalf of 10 families who live or have lived at Fort Meade. Meade Communities is part of Corvias, which owns about 24,000 homes at seven Army bases and six Air Force bases.
The lawsuit also alleges Corvias violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Because the company failed to fix the problems, some of the families felt they had no choice but to move. In effect, that constituted “constructive eviction,” the lawsuit alleges. Others felt they were stuck because they couldn’t afford to move. The families are Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.
The 92-page lawsuit describes water puddling indoors, moldy walls and wet carpet with mold underneath, rotting floor and beams, numerous illnesses and symptoms, and mold-induced financial problems. Families asked for repairs that were allegedly slow in coming, or never. Families have been displaced, and in some cases the homes they were moved to were also contaminated with mold. Families have spent money out of pocket for mold testing, to replace personal belongings contaminated by mold, and for some moving expenses.
Corvias spokeswoman Kelly Douglas said the company is aware of the complaint, “and it does not reflect the significant resources, attention and rigor that has been brought to assuring quality resident housing.”
The complaint also requests that the case be certified as a class action, noting there are more than 800 houses on Fort Meade. Attorney Ben Block, a veteran and attorney who is among the 10-lawyer Coving & Burling team representing the families, said they’ve heard from many other families at Fort Meade regarding this issue.
Many of the allegations cited in the lawsuit echo the housing issues that have been raised by numerous military families over the past year, and through Reuters reporting. Military officials and company officials have vowed publicly to immediately fix problems and set permanent fixes in motion. Service officials have admitted they abdicated their responsibility, and gave up their oversight roles over the years to private companies who were supposed to provide better housing, sustain and maintain it for 50 years.
While it doesn’t specify the amount of damages that are being sought, the complaint notes that this matter exceeds the value of $5 million.
In one example cited in the lawsuit, a Navy family felt compelled to buy their own equipment to deal with leaks and mold that the maintenance personnel couldn’t fix, and are still feeling the financial effects. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Derek Buitrago took a night job, was giving plasma at a plasma center, and visiting a food pantry to pay the bills directly related to his water leaks and mold.
He and his wife Sandy and their two sons moved into their home at Fort Meade on Aug. 13, 2016. In March, 2017, they reported a water leak from the top of the window sill in the living room. But by January, 2018, the Buitragos had grown tired of dealing with the constant leaks and puddles forming in their living room after each rain, so they purchased a heavy-duty carpet cleaner to clean the carpets after each leak, the lawsuit states.
When the family asked Corvias to allow them to move to another house because of the repeated water issues, Corvias told them it would require a $600 moving fee.
“The Buitragos did not have $600, so they were trapped in the leaky house,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit:
On Feb. 5, a pipe burst in the house, leading to flooding.
“Corvias maintenance personnel changed the pipe and left, leaving behind wet padding, carpet, a wall exposed with mold, and standing water in the living room."
Then the Buitragos found a hole in the floor of their son’s room, directly above the leaking living room window. The water damage had caused the floor and beams underneath to rot.
At that point, Corvias relocated the family to a hotel on post. An ensuing mold inspection found elevated levels of mold in the house. The Buitragos family found that their couch had mold on the inside, but the Corvias representative suggested the family shampoo the couch.
The Buitragos were moved to another house on base, which also tested positive for elevated levels of mold, before moving on change of station orders to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
They are sleeping on air mattresses in their new home because they had to discard so much of their furniture because of mold, and don’t have the money to buy new furniture.
The lawsuit describes each family’s experience:
In one case Army Col. Scott Gerber and his wife Sandy experienced numerous instances of water damage and mold infestation. When Sandy Gerber went to Texas to visit her mother who was battling lung cancer, her mother had an acute respiratory attack because of the mold. Her mother has since been diagnosed with a fungal infection, believed to be related to this second-hand mold exposure, that will require surgery.
The Gerbers had to hire a private home inspection service to test for mold when Corvias refused to do so. Because Corvias would declare there was no mold without inspecting, the Gerbers paid out of their own pocket for multiple other military families to have mold testing on their houses, according to the lawsuit.
The eight other service members and their families who are suing Corvias are: Army Sgt. Joseph Addi; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kylie Bowers; Navy Senior Chief Daniel Chubb; Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Gilliland; Air Force Master Sgt. Alexander Nunez; Sgt. 1st Class Youn Pascal; Coast Guard Petty Officer Tyquan Scullark; Army Sgt. Andrew Ziemann.
Corvias knew that many houses on Fort Meade had problems with mold, according to the lawsuit, because company officials attached a mold addendum to leases, requiring all residents to sign it. It requests residents to promptly notify Corvias of any visible mold growth, and Corvias would in turn respond to repair or remediate the situation.
The lawsuit alleges Corvias committed fraud by making “false statements and material omissions about the condition of the housing on Fort Meade,” and by moving the families into houses which the company knew were infested with toxic mold. The company also allegedly made false statements about the status and success of their repair and remediation work.
The lawsuit alleges Corvias committed negligence, by “failing to properly evaluate housing conditions to ensure leased properties were fit for human habitation, failing to properly repair and remedy those conditions affecting the health and safety of the residents even after being informed of and observing first-hand the degraded and unsafe conditions of the homes under their care, failing to send qualified repair persons to perform the necessary repairs and remediation, and falsely stating that repairs had been completed when the problems persisted.”
A similar lawsuit was filed Oct. 29 in federal court in San Antonio by eight families against Hunt Military Communities.
And in September, a jury in San Diego awarded a Marine Corps family more than $2 million in connection with mold contamination and other issues in their residence in a military privatized housing community.
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.