AUSTIN, Texas -- Six years ago, Leilani Hamilton and her family of four moved into an historic home at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio.
Within a week, Hamilton submitted her first request to Hunt Military Communities, the company responsible for base housing, to make a repair to the duplex, which was built in 1932 and is part of the Randolph Field National Historic District.
For the five years that the Hamiltons lived there, she continually filed requests for home repairs in an effort to help keep the house habitable for her family.
"In my son's room, it took the walls to come crumbling down under the window sill for them to act," Hamilton said.
Every time it rained, the 16 windows of the house leaked so much that the walls began to deteriorate beneath them. The air vent in the bathroom blew directly into the attic instead of out of the home. Once, the Hamiltons left for a week and came home to orange spots growing on the walls of the children's bathroom. Her husband, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Samuel Hamilton, waged war against "innumerable" cockroaches that invaded the house by sealing openings under the house himself.
Though the Hamiltons relocated to Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., where they purchased a home off base, they are one of eight military families who filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Hunt Military Communities for mold- and pest-infested housing at Randolph, which is part of Joint Base San Antonio, and Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio in west Texas.
"These people need their day in court, and they need it now. These families have been dramatically and adversely affected," said Jim Moriarty, a Houston-based attorney representing the families in the lawsuit.
Last month, a San Diego jury awarded $2 million to a Marine Corps family for mold problems in family housing managed by Lincoln Military Housing. The company said in a statement following the verdict that they intend to appeal. Another Marine Corps family received $350,000 in a lawsuit against Lincoln in Virginia in 2016, but it took more than five years to close the case.
"I've been trying lawsuits for about 45 years," Moriarty said. "That San Diego verdict is a hell of a lot closer to the value of what these cases are."
Both cases predate the increased scrutiny on military family housing that began more than a year ago when a Reuters investigation made public the ongoing problems of mold, pest infestations and poor maintenance faced by military families. Congressional hearings in February provided a public scolding of the leadership of the military and private housing management companies, and some changes have been rolled out since then.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Hunt Military Communities said the company is aware of the lawsuit.
"We believe the lawsuit is without merit and intend to vigorously defend the company against these baseless claims," according to a housing company statement.
According to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division and assigned to Magistrate Judge Richard B. Farrer, Hunt Military Communities "systematically under-maintained the military housing, subjected service members and their families to atrocious conditions, including pervasive mold that sickened them and destroyed their possessions, utilized substandard service providers to allegedly remediate the mold problems, subjected service members and their families to pest infestations and misled tenants about the remediation actions allegedly undertaken."
Moriarty said they are seeking personal injury damages, primarily for the children involved, but he did not include a dollar amount. He said he will wait to hear what a jury will do when they have heard the facts.
Another family's story stood out to Moriarty, he said. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas and Kassandra Wolf and their four children lived at Randolph for three years. But they moved out in May. Their son was bitten by ants so often that the school contacted Child Protective Services, according to court documents.
"When I listen to Kassandra talk about her little boy and the fact that he wouldn't wear shorts because of all the scars on his legs from ant bites, that is beyond the pale. That is not acceptable. No child of any service member ought to live in what borders on being slums," Moriarty said.
The housing companies need to change their ways, or the military should change companies, he said. Hunt signed a 50-year contract with the Air Force in 2007, according to court documents. Moriarty intends to work with Congress to right the wrongs that he said are occurring within the privatization of military family housing.
Other families listed on the lawsuit are Capt. Michael J. Daniels, his wife, Barbara High-Daniels and their two children, Capt. Jonathan and Sarah Kline and their three children, Lt. Col. Mark and Rachel Hiatt and their four children, Lt. Col. Shane and Becky Vinales and their two children, Petty Officer 1st Class Jon and Allison Alexander and their two children and 2nd Lt. Lance and Megan Konzen, who are the only family suing from Laughlin Air Force Base. The service members are in the Air Force, Army and Navy.
"We decided to move forward [with the lawsuit] because even after housing was put in the spotlight, they continued to downplay our concerns and didn't repair or fix what they said they would," Hamilton said. "It was still a constant fight to make our home livable."
For years, the Hamiltons thought they would be moving from San Antonio, so it always seemed they were close to ridding themselves of their home. They never wanted to move off base because of the expense and they also wanted to keep their 14-year-old daughter, who is autistic, in the same school.
But during the more than five years in the house, Hamilton's 6-year-old son was diagnosed with sleep apnea and her daughter with asthma. She herself suffered migraines, sinus infections and nose bleeds, while her husband found the smell coming from the master bathroom, where mold was discovered, so unbearable he often slept in the spare bedroom with the vents closed and an air purifier running.