Military tenants will have most of the benefits in a tenant bill of rights by May 1. A document signed Tuesday evening by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the service secretaries was created to ensure access to safe, quality and well-maintained homes and communities.

But three key rights are still in the works — access to maintenance history of a home, a process for dispute resolution, and withholding of rent until disputes are resolved — as DoD works to develop standardized, formal processes for these rights. Some of the rights required by Congress affect legal matters “that do not lend themselves to unilateral action by the Department,” according to the document. So more work is required before the benefits of the rights are full available.

So while the processes are being developed, service members and families can work with military officials to resolve housing issues. Tenants should seek assistance from their military housing office, installation leadership or chain of command.

It’s been a year since military spouses first testified before lawmakers about black mold growing out of the walls, rodents, and water leaks in their family housing, and their frustration dealing with landlords and the military to get it fixed. A few weeks after that hearing, the service secretaries announced they were drafting a tenant bill of rights, which would, among other things, allow for the tenant’s rent to be withheld from the landlord while the resident’s dispute is being heard by a neutral decision maker. That rent is generally the service member’s Basic Allowance for Housing.

The tenant bill of rights was ready last fall; the service secretaries testified before the Senate in December that they were awaiting final passage of the authorization law, in order to make any changes before the final product.

The rights that will be available by May 1 include:

* the right to live in a housing unit and community that meet health and environmental standards;

* the right to working fixtures, appliances and utilities and a community with well-maintained common areas and amenity spaces;

* the right to a written lease with clearly defined rental terms;

* the right to a plain-language briefing before signing a lease and 30 days after move-in, by the housing office, on all rights and responsibilities associated with tenancy;

* the right to have enough time and opportunity to prepare and be present for move-in and move-out inspections;

* the right to report problems with the housing unit to the landlord, chain of command, and housing management office without fear of reprisal or retaliation;

* the right of access to a military tenant advocate or a military legal assistance attorney, to help prepare requests to initiate dispute resolution;

* the right to receive property management services that meet or exceed industry standards, and are performed by professionally and appropriately training and responsive customer service and maintenance staff;

* the right to have multiple, convenient methods to communicate with the landlord maintenance staff, and to receive consistently honest, accurate, straightforward and responsive communications;

* the right to have access to an electronic work order system to request maintenance or repairs and track the progress of the work;

* the right to prompt and professional maintenance and repairs, and to be informed of the required time frame, and to be moved into suitable lodging or other housing at no cost to the tenant when repairs are necessary to ensure habitability of a housing unit;

* the right to get advice from military legal assistance on procedures for resolving disputes and filing claims against the landlord;

* the right to have reasonable, advance notice before the landlord, installation housing staff or chain of command enters the housing unit, unless there’s an emergency or abandonment of the unit;

* the right not to pay non-refundable fees or have application of rent credits arbitrarily held;

* the right to expect that common documents, forms and processes for housing units will be the same for all military installations to the extent possible without violating local, state and federal regulations.

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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