Ten military families stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland, say persistent problems, including toxic mold and pests, continued to plague their homes and left their children sick more than eight months after privatized military housing companies and the Defense Department promised Congress to better the maintenance of service member abodes.
The families are suing Corvias Management-Army and Meade Communities LLC, the sole management and landlord companies for homes on the base, in a lawsuit alleging negligence, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and other complaints against the company, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for Maryland.
One Ft. Meade family, who has a child with autism, was forced to live in a house with excessive moisture, dangerous mold and standing sewage water, according to the complaint.
An inspection by Corvias in March revealed, “The attic was covered in rotting and moldy insulation, with water-damaged roof beams. In addition, the HVAC vents in the attic were covered in spotty black mold,” lawyers with Covington & Burling, who are representing the families, wrote in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Corvias refused to conduct any mold testing to see what the children were exposed to, and then offered to move the family into another mold-infested house or to a two-story house — which was not conducive to their autistic child due to the risk for falling. Corvias would not pay for a hotel room until the family repeatedly asked the company for assistance.
The family suffered from numerous health issues and the autistic child got “repeated upper respiratory infections, ear infections, tonsillitis, stridor, and eczema. He had to have surgery to put tubes in his ears,” the lawyers wrote.
Attorneys are also asking the court to certify the case as a class action suit. That would open up the possibility for residents in more than 800 homes on Ft. Meade to receive compensation from the settlement.
In an statement to Federal News Network on Tuesday, Kelly Douglas, a Corvias spokeswoman, said the company is reviewing the complaint, but that it “does not reflect the significant resources, attention and rigor that has been brought to assuring quality resident housing.”
The allegations come after a tension-filled Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in February that, along with reporting from Reuters, outed rampant reports of mold, mice, lead paint and other substandard living conditions in privatized military housing across the world. Multiple housing companies were called to the mat to explain why they were tardy in repairs or did slipshod jobs at correcting issues with homes.
Both the housing companies and DoD pledged to inspect homes, instill zero-tolerance policies for retaliation, give tenants more rights, fix ongoing problems in homes and withhold incentive pay from companies until problems were fixed.
But now, almost nine months since that hearing, residents at Ft. Meade said they are still living in conditions that make some of them sick and cannot get Corvias to fix problems with their homes.
Corvias owner John Picerne told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee nearly nine months ago that he let down residents, and pledged to make fixing the housing issue a top priority.
“We are going to fix it. We’ll get to the bottom of this problem, and once again, we will return to the gold standard of customer service that we once had,” he said during the Feb. 14 hearing. “We’re making organizational changes to ensure that our gold standard resident service is built in our operation. By adding staff to be in the neighborhoods, by reopening several neighborhood centers and amenities, by retooling our entire mold and mildew standards and policies, and by starting a major construction push. By working with the Army and the Air Force leadership, we’re tapping into more than $140 million worth of formerly trapped-by-reserve accounts by our investment groups. We’re also investing $323 million new dollars. This will provide for improving more than 2,600 homes in our communities.”
Yet in the lawsuit the families allege Corvias used dishonest tactics to test for mold in homes.
Corvias committed to visual inspection and air quality test to identify suspected fungal growth in all Ft. Meade homes by July 1.
However, the families allege “Corvias, among other things, truncated mold inspections, conducted them improperly by failing to compare samples taken inside a house with those taken from a control of outside air, by running industrial-strength air scrubbers in houses prior to testing, in withholding information about the results of testing from the family members, in not following up on the recommendations of the testers to remediate, and in performing haphazard and incomplete remediation.”
The plaintiffs said Corvias and Ft. Meade Communities recognize the problem and it is their responsibility to fix it, but mold problems have not been resolved and maintenance backlogs still exist.
On its website, Corvias has posted multiple updates since February indicating the company has made improvements to the military housing units it manages.
In May, the company released a statement about a new initiative to re-roof 110 historic houses on Ft. Meade.
“We have work to do, but we’re seeing progress,” Picerne said in the statement. “At Fort Meade during the last month, 95.9% of 630 total emergency work orders were completed within 24 hours, and 88.3% of the 2,569 routine work orders were completed within the benchmark of 10 days, and our resident satisfaction data reflects 3.99 out of 5.”
In September, Corvias said it added 100 permanent positions at Ft. Meade and Ft. Bragg to increase resident engagement opportunities. Corvias also updated its numbers.
“To date, nearly 4,700 work orders have been submitted via the portal with a 92% satisfaction rating on work performed. Ninety four point seven percent of work orders are being completed on time, demonstrating Corvias’ priority to improve the time and rate of response to work orders and service requests. Of the work orders completed, the satisfaction score is 4.13 out of 5,” the author of the release stated.
Corvias also established resident advisory groups for collaboration between the company and residents and reopened recreation centers and playgrounds to host regular social and community events.
Corvias isn’t the only company to have issues after making promises to change the way they do business.
The Air Force sent a letter in October to Balfour Beatty Communities, another private military housing company, asking them to make prompt and substantial improvement to their homes.
In the letter, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Installations, Environment and Energy John Henderson said failures by the company were unacceptable and eroded Air Force confidence in Balfour Beatty.