This article was updated June 16 to include a response from Fort Hood Family Housing.
Nine Army families are suing their privatized housing landlord at Fort Hood, Texas, alleging the company failed to fix their mold-infested, dilapidated housing — sickening their families, and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to their belongings.
This is the latest in a string of lawsuits filed on behalf of military families at a number of installations nationwide, alleging improper maintenance, repairs that don’t fix the problem, and refusal to admit the truth regarding the severity of the problems in the housing.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court in San Antonio against Fort Food Family Housing LP, FHFH, Inc., and their parent company, Lend Lease US Public Partnerships LLC. Fort Hood Family Housing manages about 5,617 houses in 11 neighborhoods at Fort Hood, according to the lawsuit. Lend Lease manages family housing on a number of other military bases.
The problems cited in the lawsuit are similar to what other military families have described in testimony, and in news reports. The 83-page lawsuit describes flooded houses with improper repairs, moldy walls and flooring, numerous illnesses and symptoms, and mold-induced financial problems. Families asked for repairs that were allegedly slow in coming, or never. The families allege the company fraudulently concealed the pervasive mold, failing to reveal it to families before they moved in — even allegedly falsely confirming that their house was mold-free.
One of the rights yet to be provided in the military tenant bill of rights will be the right to a maintenance history of the home. Critics have said prospective tenants need to know the history of any problems with their home. Lawmakers included this in their reform of military housing privatization that became law in late 2019 and beefs up oversight, as well as sets up a tenant bill of rights. All but four of the basic rights have been implemented, according to DoD.
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.
Fort Hood Family Housing “has policies in place that ensure we respond to all resident service orders within specified periods,” according to a company statement provided to Military Times. "We then work with families to diagnose and repair any issues in dedicated time frames.
“We respect the rights of individuals to bring claims; however we believe we have acted appropriately and are prepared to take all necessary steps to defend these allegations,” officials stated.
A Fort Hood official said officials there are aware of the lawsuit, “and it’s a legal matter in which Fort Hood is not involved.”
These families allege they’ve suffered symptoms of toxic mold exposure, including respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and asthma, nausea, toxic encephalopathy, ear infections, mental illness, severe nosebleeds, skin rashes and headaches.
“Fort Hood is nicknamed ‘The Great Place,’ but service members and their families have discovered that living there is anything but ‘great,’ “ said Ryan C. Reed, of Pulman, Cappuccio & Pullen, LLP, one of the law firms representing the families. “Instead, many service members’ time living there has been marred by neglected, filthy living conditions in on-post housing that has caused the service members and their families injury, personal property damage, illness, heartache, and insult.”
The other law firms are the Law Offices of James R. Moriarty, of Houston; Watts Guerra LLP, of San Antonio; and Johnson Reist PLLC, of Plan, Texas.
Each of the houses suffered from such extreme deterioration and mold-related damage and infestation, that the houses aren’t safe for human habitation, the lawsuit alleges. Mold is pervasive, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems leak, flood the houses and circulate toxic airborne mold, and the moisture content of the walls contributes to the moldy conditions, according to the lawsuit.
The company has refused to perform reasonable repairs, the families allege.
A number of young children in the families have suffered the ill effects, the lawsuit alleges.
In one case, a family is now having to take extraordinary COVID-19 protective measures to make sure their baby is secluded in their home because of the respiratory issues he has suffered since he was born while they were living at Fort Hood. Sgt. Jason Kiernan and his wife Sarah moved away from Fort Hood in August 2019, when the Army reassigned them to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, after a pulmonologist who treated their newborn son wrote a letter detailing his concerns about the family’s physical exposure to conditions within the house. Because of these issues dating back to Fort Hood, the baby is at “extremely high risk of death” if he contracts COVID-19, according to the lawsuit, and the family has had to go to “extraordinary lengths to make sure the baby is secluded in their home for the foreseeable future.”
The mold has had an emotional impact, too, as seen in the children of Sgt. 1st Class Jesus Joseph Brown and his wife Emilee. A teacher sent their youngest child home to show his mother a paper he’d written, expressing fear that mold was going to kill everyone in his family. The family had moved to Fort Hood in March 2018, and over the course of the next 18 months, lived in three houses, “each with problems so severe they feared for their health and had no choice but to vacate,” according to the lawsuit.
These families have also experienced problems common to many other military families living in homes infested with mold, such as problems getting their landlord to remove mold from personal belongings. For example, Spec. John Kelley and his wife Lily found their baby’s changing pad was covered with mold, and mold was growing on his dress blues — even after their household goods had been remediated for mold.
The Kelleys had moved to Fort Hood in September 2019 — seven months after defense and military officials vowed to address problems with military housing.
Within six months after moving to Fort Hood, the Kelleys felt they had to leave on-post housing for their family’s safety, and move off post.
The amount of damages being sought by the families hasn’t yet been determined, but in two of the cases, the lawsuit cites “hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of personal belongings that families lost.
The lawsuit cites expenses such as paying rent (their Basic Allowance for Housing) for uninhabitable housing, excessive utility bills, environment testing, moving and storage expenses, expenses for replace furniture and other personal belongings, medical expenses in the past and in the future.
The lawsuit “is a step towards accountability that is lacking within the Military Housing Privatization Initiative,” the Military Housing Advocacy Network said in a statement.
“These companies must be investigated on a larger scale. Their blatant violations of service member and tenant rights are only currently being held accountable through litigation. Our military families deserve safe and accessible homes without needing to seek legal counsel.”
The housing privatization initiative started in the 1990s as an effort to address housing managed by the government that had fallen into a dilapidated state.
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.