Military families should have the three missing tenant protections in the tenant bill of rights by May 1, the administration’s nominee for the Defense Department position that oversees housing told senators Tuesday.
Those protections, which have been key to military families, are a dispute resolution process between the tenant and privatized housing landlord; a process for withholding rent during the dispute; and a maintenance history of the house before the family moves in.
“You all are going to fix this? No can-kicking?” asked Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee. “That’s exactly what we’re driving for,” said William Jordan Gillis, nominee for assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, during his confirmation hearing. “If we need any help, if confirmed, I wouldn’t hesitate to come and ask you for it.”
More than a year ago, military families first testified before House and Senate lawmakers about their problems with black mold, rodent infestation, water leaks and other problems —and their frustration in getting the problems addressed by privatized housing landlords or installation officials. The problems were first reported by Reuters. In December, a law was signed that provides a number of rights to military housing tenants, in an effort to increase oversight, fix the problems, and create a military housing tenant bill of rights.
In February, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and the service secretaries signed a tenant bill of rights which detailed 15 protections that would be granted by May 1. But the document stated that the three remaining rights were still in the works, as DoD works to develop standardized, formal processes for those rights. Some of those rights required by law, affect legal matters “that do not lend themselves to unilateral action by the Department,” according to the document.
In an interview with reporters March 6, a DoD official said he expects the process for providing the maintenance history of houses to tenants before they move in to be available by May 1.
A number of Senate Armed Services Committee members pressed Gillis repeatedly about those missing protections. Many House and Senate lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, have previously weighed in with their displeasure. Blackburn urged Gillis to put those missing protections in writing.
“It’s important that you get pen to paper on this, that you deliver the message,” Blackburn said. “We are quite frustrated that you would put out a tenant bill of rights that would eliminate those components that are so vitally necessary, that people know they can withhold that rent and they’ve got a path to that dispute resolution.
“Our attention on that is not going to be lifted. It’s going to stay right there. We appreciate your willingness to work on that in a timely manner," Blackburn said.
Asked by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., about why the three protections were left out, Gillis said, “I think we left those out because we got hung up on details,” and said he will work through those. He noted that the acting assistant secretary of defense for sustainment had committed to completing the process of adding those missing protections by May 1. If he’s confirmed, Gillis said, he will work to carry that out, “and if not, I will continue to work on that from the Army perspective.”
Gillis has been serving as the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.