Military families in privatized housing at the “vast majority” of installations should have their remaining four tenant rights by June 1 — including a process for resolving disputes with their landlords and way to withhold rent during those disputes, a defense official told lawmakers Tuesday.

The Defense Department has issued all the policy guidance necessary to fully implement those four remaining tenant rights, said Paul Cramer, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.

These last four tenant rights are among the most important for military families, who have expressed frustration in dealing with some privatized housing landlords and the military in their repeated efforts to get problems fixed involving mold, lead, water leakage and other problems. They’ve asked for that dispute resolution process, as well as a process for withholding their rent from the landlord, until issues are resolved. The rent for privatized housing units is equal to the service member’s Basic Allowance for Housing.

The other two remaining tenant rights are common forms and documents for all housing tenants; and access to the maintenance history of their housing unit. The seven-year maintenance history will help potential residents determine whether they want to live in that home, Cramer said.

Those four rights were required in the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, as part of 18 elements in a new tenant bill of rights. In June, 2020, defense officials announced that 14 of the 18 protections in the tenant bill of rights had been implemented in privatized housing communities. DoD officials have been in discussions with the privatized housing companies about these four remaining provisions, which are among the most important for military families. Because of the way these agreements are set up, DoD doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally change the terms of the agreements, Cramer said. These housing communities are financed primarily by private investments.

The tenant bill of rights was required by law in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020 as part of comprehensive reform provisions to address pervasive issues with mold, rodents and other health, safety and environmental hazards in privatized military housing.

As far as the dispute resolution process, commanders at the O6 level on the installation will make decisions in an informal dispute process, and if the dispute can’t be resolved there, it will be elevated to a formal process where a flag/general officer will be the deciding official, Cramer said. He said defense officials are working to get all 14 privatized housing companies to agree to apply it to their collective 81 separate existing projects. He said DoD officials expect all but a few privatized companies to implement those dispute and rent withholding processes by this summer.

“This represents a fundamental step in our ongoing effort to improve the department’s military housing program,” Cramer said.

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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