Esper signs tenant bill of rights for families, but some provisions missing

Members of the military will soon officially have new protections when it comes to privatized military housing, however congressional leaders say they do not go far enough.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, along with the secretaries of each military service, signed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights yesterday. The document gives military families explicit rights to comprehensible leases, electronic work order submissions and advance notice of a landlord visit.

The rights will go into effect on May 1.

“It is paramount that residents receive the full benefit of each right. The Department of Defense, through each of its military departments, will work diligently and expeditiously to develop the processes and procedures needed to implement these rights and make tenants aware of them,” the secretaries stated.

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However, not all of the proposed rights made it into this version.

“Many of the rights set forth by Congress pertain to legal matters that do not lend themselves to unilateral action by the department,” the secretaries wrote. “To the extent it is not already the case, the military departments commit to working with the housing companies to incorporate these rights and procedures into appropriate project legal documents. In some cases, more work is required before the benefits of these rights are fully available to tenants.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the bill of rights is too weak. The bill of rights was mandated by Congress in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

“Unfortunately, it feels like we are seeing a pattern of moving two steps forward, one step back when it comes to fixing our broken military housing system,” they wrote in a joint statement Wednesday. “The department led our military families to believe these protections were in the Bill of Rights when they circulated a draft for comment as early as May 2019 with those items included. This goes directly against the promises made by the department and the housing companies that they would work to regain the trust of our military families.”

The missing rights are access the maintenance history of a house, a process for dispute resolution and the withholding of rent until disputes are resolved.

Tenants will have 15 rights, which are based off best practices in many states. The rights include provisions such as:

  • The right to reside in a housing unit and a community that meets applicable health and environmental standards.
  • The right to a plain-language briefing, before signing a lease and 30 days after move-in, by the installation housing office on all rights and responsibilities associated with tenancy of the housing unit, including information regarding the existence of any additional fees authorized by the lease, any utilities payments, the procedures for submitting and tracking work orders, the identity of the military tenant advocate and the dispute resolution process.
  • The right to report inadequate housing standards or deficits in habitability of the housing unit to the landlord, the chain of command, and housing management office without fear of reprisal or retaliation, including reprisal or retaliation in the following forms: unlawful recovery of, or attempt to recover, possession of the housing unit; unlawfully increasing the rent, decreasing services, or increasing the obligations of a tenant; interference with a tenant’s right to privacy; harassment of a tenant; refusal to honor the terms of the lease; or interference with the career of a tenant.

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We were very involved in the process developing the bill of rights,” John Ehle, president of Hunt Military Communities, said Wednesday at a Blue Star Families event in Washington. “We are already undertaking a lot of that and with some of the rights the implementation process is underway with DoD. There’s nothing that’s earth-shattering. I think it’s a good thing.”

Some military families have taken matters into their own hands when dealing with the housing companies. Families in Ft. Meade, Maryland sued Corvias Management-Army and Meade Communities LLC for persistent problems, including toxic mold and pests, continued to plague their homes and left their children sick.

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