Ten military families are suing their privatized housing landlord, alleging mold, bugs, water leaks and other unhealthy and unsafe living conditions at three Texas bases — Fort Bliss, Lackland Air Force Base and Sheppard Air Force Base.
The lawsuit describes multiple cases of sewer backups, mold infestation, rodent and insect problems, water intrusion and burst pipes. In one instance, a hot water pipe ruptured in the concrete foundation in the children’s bedroom of the Drosos family in the middle of the night at Fort Bliss “and woke the children by burning them with [scalding] hot water,” according to the lawsuit. Army Pfc. Alexander Drosos and his family moved out of the house in December 2019.
The complaint was filed June 8 in federal court in San Antonio, naming Balfour Beatty Communities LLC and its associated companies at Fort Bliss, Lackland AFB and Sheppard AFB as defendants. The families seek an unspecified amount in damages, alleging financial losses in damage to their personal property, excessive utility bills, medical bills and other expenses.
“We are aware of the complaint, which we believe is entirely without merit, and intend to defend ourselves vigorously,” said Balfour Beatty Communities officials in a statement to Military Times.
The lawsuit alleges the privatized housing companies “concealed harmful housing conditions” from the military families before the families signed their lease, and when problems came up, the companies failed to fix those problems.
In their statement, Balfour Beatty Communities said the well-being of service members and their families is their top priority. “We take all service requests from our residents very seriously, and have comprehensive protocols in place to address any potential life, health or safety concerns,” officials stated. “We are committed to the continuous improvement of our military housing, and are laser-focused on ensuring we provide the highest quality living experience.” Balfour Beatty Communities provides housing at 55 Army, Air Force and Navy installations across the U.S.
The 10 families are Army and Air Force: the Banner family; the Clarke family; the Drosos family; the Dozier family; the Houston family; the Keever family; the Kinney family; the Northup family; the Roellchen family, and the Straight family.
Some of the individual families’ allegations:
• The cockroach infestation was so bad at Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonn Roellchen’s house, that Roxanne Roellchen noticed a cockroach crawling on her special-needs son’s feeding tube, according to the lawsuit. The two subsequent homes they were moved to also had bugs and mold. They are still living in housing at Lackland AFB.
• The lawsuit alleges that James Banner was medically discharged from the military as a result of debilitating migraines he suffered while living in the house at Sheppard AFB, which had issues ranging from sewer blockages to mold, insect and rodent infestations. The family moved into the house in July 2018.
• Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Clarke and his family allege that the company refused to provide financial assistance when the family was told to leave due to a gas leak. They moved into the house at Fort Bliss in July 2015, and moved out in July 2018. They dealt with rodents, insects and various water issues.
• Army Staff Sgt. Cody Straight, in dealing with sewer blockages causing non-functioning showers and sinks; multiple HVAC leaks; toxic mold and insects; had to miss work to meet maintenance workers at the house, according to the lawsuit. “He was informed that unless he solved his problems and ceased missing work, he would not be promoted,” the lawsuit states. The family moved into the Fort Bliss home in October 2015.
The lawsuit describes “deplorable living conditions,” “systemically poor maintenance,” and “appalling defects” such as the presence of asbestos and lead-based paint; structurally deficient flooring and walls; faulty insulation; pervasive mold and other toxins; deficient electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems; and other issues.
Because of these conditions, many of the military personnel and their family members “suffer from resulting medical issues such as difficulty breathing, asthma, pneumonia infections, migraines, serious allergic reactions, nose bleeds, and respiratory issues,” according to the lawsuit, filed by law firms Watts Guerra LLC; Pulman, Cappuccio & Pullen, LLP; and Law Offices of James R. Moriarity.
The defendants named are Balfour Beatty Communities LLC; and its associated companies at each of the installations: Lackland Family Housing, LLC; Fort Bliss/White Sands Missile Range Housing; BBC Military Housing – Bliss/WSMR General Partner LLC; Balfour Beatty Military Housing Management, LLC; AETC Housing, LP doing business as Sheppard AFB Homes; BBC Military Housing – AETC General Partner, LLC; and BBC AF Management/Development, LLC.
Among other things, the complaint accuses the companies of breach of the lease agreement, deceptive trade practices; negligence; fraud in a real estate transaction; common law fraud; and violations of the lead-based paint hazard reduction act.
This is the latest in a string of lawsuits filed by dozens of military families who have alleged problems with mold, water intrusion, rodents and insect infestation, and many other problems with their military housing, and have alleged repeated frustration in trying to get landlord companies to fix the problems.
Following Reuters and other media reports and congressional hearings in 2019 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 and service officials to provide better oversight of privatized housing landlords, and to be more responsive to families frustrated by lack of action.
DoD and the services have taken a number of actions to address these problems with privatized housing, such as increasing the number of personnel at housing offices to provide better oversight, and to act as liaisons with families and landlords. The final provisions of the military tenants’ bill of rights are set to be in place by the end of September. The tenant bill of rights addresses issues that have been brought forward, such as quick responses to maintenance requests.
Many of the housing companies have also taken steps to improve the quality of the homes and their service to military families.
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.