Five military families are suing the privatized housing landlords for Randolph Air Force Base for their “deplorable” housing conditions which they say led to medical and financial problems.
The four Air Force families and one Army family allege a litany of problems, including pervasive mold, rodent and insect infestations, seeping sewage and leaking pipes, to name a few. In one family’s case, there was a hole in the floor so large, they couldn’t regulate the house’s temperature, causing expensive electricity bills. Another family was unable to move their household goods last May because of mold contamination; their belongings are still in storage.
The ranks of the service members range from E6 to O6. They allege the living conditions caused a host of medical problems, ranging from headaches and gastrointestinal issues to various allergic reactions and serious lung problems, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 29 in federal court in San Antonio.
The defendants are Hunt Military Communities and its business entities at Randolph, AETC II Privatized Housing, LLC; and AETC II Property Managers, LLC. According to its website, Hunt is the largest owner of military housing in the U.S., owning about 52,000 homes spread across more than 40 military installations, including Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps bases.
“Hunt takes theses matters extremely seriously and is focused on providing our residents with healthy and comfortable homes,” said officials from Hunt Military Communities, in a statement provided to Military Times. “As part of our ongoing commitment to providing the best housing and living experience for our residents, Hunt has introduced reforms to the [privatized housing] program and has been developing, reviewing and executing on initiatives to improve living conditions at our own facilities, including at Randolph Family Housing.”
This lawsuit joins a string of others involving dozens of military families who have sued various privatized housing companies alleging persistent problems with the condition of their houses, including medical and financial issues. Following media reports and congressional hearings that brought attention to mold and other widespread problems with military housing, laws were enacted in late 2019 and late 2020 to address the problems and force defense officials to provide better oversight of privatized housing landlords, and to be more responsive to families frustrated by lack of action.
Some of the families in this lawsuit were experiencing problems as these issues were being publicly raised, and as defense officials and privatized housing company officials were acknowledging the problems and vowing to fix them.
This lawsuit alleges that Hunt was aware of the condition of the houses before families moved in and misrepresented that they were safe to occupy; that they failed to repair the houses after families repeatedly requested it; and committed acts of “gross negligence” by concealing those “persistent and toxic conditions” from the families before they moved in and then refusing to remediate the conditions, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit also alleges the companies violated federal law by failing to provide service members with all available reports and records regarding the presence of lead or lead-based paint hazards. The lawsuit doesn’t specify the amount of damages requested by the families, but because of these violations related to disclosure of lead-based paint hazards, attorneys ask for damages equal to three times the amount incurred by each person.
The Hill family’s home was one of those with lead paint problems. The lawsuit alleges that during the three years they lived in their home, “lead paint chipped off the walls, the home was riddled with wood rot, inadequate ventilation and water damage throughout the home.”
Kari D. Hill, said she hopes the lawsuit will result in improvements in how military families are treated.
“We want to care for the people who come after us who live in these houses,” she said.
Jennifer Neal, an attorney with Watts Guerra LLP in San Antonio, said that’s a common theme among the families bringing the lawsuit. Neal said her firm is representing other military families in similar lawsuits against privatized housing companies, and there are instances where multiple families have subsequently lived in the same house and suffered the same problems.
Hill and her husband, retired Army Maj. James C. Hill Jr., and their three children, left their home after three years when he retired, in May, 2020. But their household goods didn’t come with them — they’re still in storage. Because of tests revealing mold contamination, “the Hill family was informed that they should not take their contaminated belongings with them,” the lawsuit states, so they were forced to put all of their belongings in storage.
Their problems included water damage, mold growth, structural deficiencies, lead paint, and rodent infestations.
Kari Hill suffered from headaches, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, insomnia, tenderness, congestion, excessive eye secretions, anxiety and a dry cough; in 2018, while they were still living in the home, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The Hills’ three children also had “significant health problems” while living in the home, according to the lawsuit.
The other four plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Air Force families who lived at Randolph AFB:
*Chief Master Sgt. Michael English, his wife Elldwinia and their seven children and one grandchild, moved out of their house on Jan. 1, 2019, after one year. They had issues of mold, asbestos, water damage, sewage intrusion, lead paint, structural and flooring problems, and rodent and bug infestations. A hole in the floor made it impossible to regulate the home’s temperature, resulting in high electricity bills, according to the lawsuit. The family was healthy before moving in to the home, but their health began to deteriorate shortly after moving in. Elldwinia English had allergy problems and difficulty breathing, resulting in frequent hospital visits.
*Reserve Capt. Sean Skillingstad, his wife Ressia and their two children left their home on June 12, 2020, after nearly three years living there while he was on active duty. Ressia’s pre-existing autoimmune and rheumatological issues were worsened by mold exposure; their son was diagnosed with asthma as a result of his exposure to mold, according to the lawsuit.
*Tech. Sgt. Rodolfo Castillo, his wife Latasha and their five young children and nephew moved out of their home Nov.17, 2017, after a year. They faced mold and lead paint contamination, and a cockroach infestation that was so bad they didn’t feel comfortable unpacking all their belongings, according to the lawsuit. Cockroaches infested their couches and destroyed their other belongings. There were structural issues that caused stairs to detach from the wall and the ground; leaky plumbing, and faulty heating. The family members were healthy before moving in to the home, but continue to suffer a variety of health issues such as breathing complications.
*Now-retired Col. Bradley Oliver, his wife Deborah, and their two children left their home on April 12, 2019 after nearly two years of issues such as mold, rodent infestation, poor ventilation, filthy ductwork and structural problems. Maintenance workers insisted the issue was mildew, not mold. The landlords didn’t address the excessive moisture in the home or the rodent infestation during the time they lived there, according to the lawsuit. Deborah Oliver developed a multitude of health problems while living in the house, and shortly after leaving the home was diagnosed with COPD and Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. No longer able to work because of her deteriorated health, she is being treated by a pulmonologist, rheumatologist, cardiologist, neurologist, psychiatrist and therapist, and requires multiple medications to prevent lung damage.
Defense and service officials and the privatized housing companies have taken steps to improve living conditions and improve communications with families, over the last two years, including implementing a tenant bill of rights that addresses some of the issues.
In the statement to Military Times, Hunt Military Communities officials said among the steps they’ve taken is to create The Humidity Project for Randolph Family Housing, to ensure that all housing units are assessed for excess moisture, and corrective actions are taken when necessary. It’s aimed specifically at reducing humidity levels inside 300 historic homes at Randolph, and has produced positive results in homes where the work has been completed, officials stated.
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.