Fifteen military families have sued their privatized housing landlord at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, alleging the conditions of their homes caused health problems and financial losses.
The lawsuit, filed May 6 in Washington’s Pierce County Superior Court, names Lewis McChord Communities, LLC; Lincoln Military Housing Lewis McChord PM LLC. The defendants also include 50 people who were employees or agents of the companies, whose names aren’t known, according to the lawsuit.
Most of the families are Army families, but the clients have not authorized the attorneys to provide information about service branch, names and ranks of the service members, said Cynthia Park, an attorney representing the families.
The 15 families who are suing are: The Andersen family, Asbridge family, Baskin family, Cooper family, Fletcher family, Godoy family, Keeley family, Lundwall family, Orr family, Osorio family, Paulino family, Powers family, Johnson family, Strother family and the White family. The complaint names individual family members, but doesn’t specify which are service members.
They lived in Lewis McChord Communities housing at various times ranging from January 2016 to January 2020, according to the lawsuit, and are asking for damages to be determined at trial, for problems related to their health, and financial losses related to the rent they paid for allegedly uninhabitable houses and for costs incurred for replacing property, and moving. Each family left their house because of the conditions. The lawsuit doesn’t specifically mention the word “mold,” but refers to “microbial and mycological contamination” experienced by each of the families. That contamination can include mold.
The lawsuit joins a string of others involving dozens of military families who have sued several privatized housing companies alleging persistent problems with the condition of their houses, including medical and financial issues. 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, 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 in June. The tenant bill of rights addresses issues that have been brought forward, such as quick responses to maintenance requests. The remaining provisions address processes for dispute resolution and withholding rent during disputes.
The families allege that the companies “knowingly caused and permitted substandard building, design, construction, maintenance and repairs, as well as hazardous and unhealthy conditions,” and that the companies knew the housing units were “uninhabitable, unhealthy, unsafe and untenantable,” according to the lawsuit. The families allege the companies violated Washington state and local laws, regulations and rules regarding residential habitability.
In a statement provided to Military Times, Lincoln Military Housing said the company is aware of the recently filed lawsuit. “LMH is fully committed to ensuring our residents live in a safe and healthy environment every day. We have industry-leading water intrusion and mold management practices and protocols in place,” officials stated.
“We treat all reports of water intrusion or mold as an emergency request, and we thoroughly investigate all resident concerns, including those related to water intrusion or mold, to ensure that they are immediately and appropriately addressed.”
There are 5,159 privatized housing units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to the garrison’s website, and Lincoln Military Housing is in the midst of a six-year, $100 million project, through 2026, to renovate and modernize almost 1,000 homes.
According to the JBLM lawsuit, the families experienced a variety of issues with water intrusion and “microbial and mycological contamination” (such as mold), and frustrations with repeated requests to their landlord to fix the problems. In the Asbridge family’s case, rodent nests were found under the master bathtub, and likely exacerbated the damages caused by plumbing leaks, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit described 26 symptoms the individual family members experienced during their time in the houses, including diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, nasal congestion, sinus infections, shortness of breath, body aches, frequent or persistent headaches, dizziness, impaired memory, trouble concentrating, muscle cramps and frequent urination
The families allege their symptoms are consistent with hazardous exposure to microbial and mycological contamination (such as mold), and water intrusion.
Each family left their house because of the housing conditions, according to the lawsuit.
They allege they suffered property damage and economic loss, including the loss of their residences; personal property such as furnishings, clothing, bedding and other household items; rental payments; alternative housing costs; moving costs; cleaning expenses and out-of-pocket costs for travel, food and lodging.
Officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are aware of the litigation and are “monitoring this matter closely,” said garrison spokesman Joe Piek. “JBLM is fully committed to ensuring that our nation’s most valued resource – its military service members and their families – have access to safe, quality, and well-maintained homes and communities on DoD installations.”
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.