Ahead of a hearing Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where the service chiefs are expected to be lambasted for allowing troops to live in substandard housing, the Departments of the Army, Air Force and Navy released a draft copy of a tenant bill of rights designed to give service members more power over their leases.
The document is designed to "ensure that service members and their families have safe, quality homes and communities," according to a statement released late Wednesday by the services. It also "is intended to increase the accountability of privatized housing companies" by giving local military leaders more oversight authority of base housing.
The move comes amid an uproar over unhealthy living conditions at some military bases, including homes riddled with mold, termites, rodents, lead and other unsafe conditions.
In 2018, families across the Air Force began sounding the alarm on high levels of mold in their military homes, from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Eleven families from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi filed a lawsuit in July against the company that manages housing at the base.
In the Army, more than 1,000 children who lived in base housing across the country tested above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's threshold for lead poisoning -- a finding only revealed in August following an extensive investigation by Reuters.
According to the draft bill of rights, tenants would have the right to have their rent payments -- usually made through automatic payments from their Basic Allowance for Housing -- withheld during a dispute with the property owner or management company and may be entitled to a refund, depending on the outcome of a decision made by a third-party arbiter.
Tenants also would have a right to "prompt and professional repairs;" management companies would be required to inform tenants of the time frame for those repairs. If the repairs aren't made within 30 calendar days, a resident shall "be offered a no-cost move into an alternative residence on the installation or within the surrounding community."
The tenant bill of rights also would:
- Give residents the right to have landlord-tenant disputes resolved by a "neutral decision maker."
- Guarantee responsive communications between tenant and the landlord and maintenance staff.
- Provide a housing advocate, as designated by the installation command, to provide advice and support to tenants.
- Give tenants the right to reside in homes that are in safe working order and meet health and environmental standards.
According to a Defense Department release, the joint tenant bill of rights will be enforced through re-negotiated leases with the private companies that operate base housing and will be implemented "in the coming weeks."
"All three service secretaries have seen firsthand and reviewed problems in housing units, and the tenant bill of rights is intended to help remedy them by both protecting and empowering service members and their families," according to the statement.
The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, along with the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force, the chief of naval operations and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller are expected to testify Thursday beginning at 9:30 in Washington, D.C.