Five military families have filed a lawsuit against the owners and property managers of their privatized housing at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida, alleging negligence in failure to address moisture, mold and other problems.
They allege the problems led to severe health conditions of service members and their family members, and to economic losses, and seeks to recover damages.
In at least one instance, moldy conditions were left untreated by defendants for so long that mushrooms grew out of the floor and carpet in one service member’s home, according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Tampa.
The 61-page lawsuit describes water puddling around heating and air conditioning units; floors and walls that are warped and soft and “spongy”; moldy floors and walls; rotting walls and floors, mold-induced illnesses and symptoms ranging from rashes to lung problems to nausea and vomiting. Families asked for repairs, and maintenance was slow in coming.
The lawsuit alleges that the companies were long aware of serious mold problems in housing at MacDill, and that company officials had received numerous complaints of mold and mold-related health issues dating back to at least 2016.
The companies’ conduct meets the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of slumlord, the lawsuit alleges: “a landlord who receives unusually large profits from substandard, poorly maintained properties.”
This is the latest in a string of lawsuits filed by military families, including one by 10 Fort Meade families against their privatized housing company, Corvias. Many of the allegations cited by the MacDill families echo issues that have been raised by numerous other military families over the past year about problems with mold, water leaks, chipping lead based paint, pest and rodent infestations, and other problems.
Military officials and company officials have vowed publicly to immediately fix problems and set permanent fixes in motion. Service officials are set to testify Tuesday before senators about the progress they’ve made.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are owners AMC East Communities and Clark Realty Capital. AMC is part of Clark. Also named are property managers Interstate Realty Management Co. and Michaels Management Services, Inc., which are subsidiaries of The Michaels Organization, also a defendant. The housing is jointly managed under the name Harbor Bay, also named as a defendant.
Responses were not immediately available from either Clark Realty officials or Michaels officials.
The complaint also requests that the case be certified as a class action, noting there are a number of other families affected.
Three Air Force families and two Army families are suing the companies. Natalie Khawam, one of the attorneys representing the families, said she knows of “dozens” of other families affected by the living conditions at MacDill.
“Nobody wanted to do this. Nobody wanted to file litigation,” she said. “People in the military are averse to litigation. But they got to the point where their health was suffering from the unsafe housing,” and the companies’ maintenance was unresponsive. “Their need to have resolution fell on deaf ears.”
Berger Montague is leading the class action litigation, working with Khawam, the principal of the Tampa-based Whistleblower Law Firm.
The health problems detailed are severe, among service members and family members who had no previous health problems. For example, Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Lenz has lung, liver and spleen damage that his doctors have associated with mold exposure, according to the lawsuit. Army CW3 Jason Genrich has been diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy, a neurological disorder. He receives nerve block injections in his skull, face and neck to provide relief from migraines and headaches.
Because of his medical problems which he alleges resulted from the companies’ failure to provide safe housing, Genrich states that he feels like “half a soldier.”
The families were relocated multiple times because of the mold, and when they returned, the issues hadn’t been resolved, they said. They families also said they incurred economic losses because of the problems, such as household goods that had to be discarded and replaced because of mold.
The Lenz family, for example, has spent nearly $28,000 in unreimbursed expenses. The family of Army special forces officer Jason Norquist has had more than $60,000 in unreimbursed expenses.
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.