The Military's Expanded Tenant Bill of Rights Is About to Take Effect

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File photo of housing at the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Army Photo)
File photo of housing at the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Army Photo)

Residents who live in military housing will be covered by even more provisions in the Defense Department's tenant bill of rights beginning June 1, military leaders told Congress this week.

The remaining four provisions of an 18-point tenant bill of rights -- those that will provide military families more negotiating power with the private companies that manage nearly all on-base housing -- have been finalized, according to Todd Schafer, acting assistant secretary of the Navy for Environment, Installations and Energy.

"We have agreements with our partners already to implement those, the remaining four," Schafer told the House Appropriations subcommittee for Veterans Affairs, Military Construction and Related Agencies on Thursday. "We're now working through state agreements state by state because there has to be an addendum, because of the different laws and regulations in each state, but we're making very good progress with that."

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The provisions include a process for resolving disputes between landlords and tenants; the ability for tenants to withhold their Basic Allowance for Housing payments during dispute resolution; tenant access to the maintenance history of homes; and a standard lease document across all base housing.

Schafer said the standard lease has been approved and will be in use for new tenants beginning June 1. The new provisions will be applied retroactively to those living in housing who are not moving this year.

"That's very good to hear," subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., told Navy and Marine Corps civilian and military leaders during a hearing on quality-of-life issues.

While the provisions were part of the broader tenant bill of rights drafted last year, they weren't implemented because they required extensive negotiations with the private companies that manage 95% of all military housing.

The bill of rights grew out of a scandal that erupted in 2018 over the condition of military housing. Systemic issues came to light in a series of reports by Reuters on the presence of mold, lead-based paint, dangerous wiring, and extensive damage in military homes managed by the companies, which have 50-year contracts to maintain military housing.

Military spouses testified about their poor housing conditions, saying the companies often ignored maintenance requests or made shoddy repairs to their homes. They argued that they had no recourse for withholding their rent if the landlord ignored issues and asked for a way to have disputes mediated.

Under the new provisions, commanders who are the rank of colonel in the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps, or captain in the Navy, can make decisions in an informal dispute. If it can't be resolved at that level, the dispute will be kicked up the chain of command, where it will be logged as a formal matter and decided by a flag or general officer.

The services have worked to improve military housing, as well as their personnel's responsiveness to tenants.

The Marine Corps has hired 114 new privatized housing personnel to interface with tenants and the companies. Their role is "quality assurance for that command installation," Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black said Thursday.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith said his service has hired 183 people for those positions on Navy bases and increased engagement with families. As a result, he said, satisfaction scores have risen across 11 locations, averaging 91.3% and above.

The Army announced a major initiative last year to improve its family housing, with the private companies contributing $2.8 billion to build 3,800 new homes and renovate 18,000 existing houses.

The Air Force has hired 213 new installation housing support staff, including 58 resident advocates, 145 military housing office positions and 10 people providing support for oversight functions.

During a Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing Wednesday, the personnel chiefs of the Army and Air Force also said they were on track to roll out the remaining provisions of the tenant bill of rights by June.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Air Force Secretary Proposes Tenant Bill of Rights For Military Families

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