SecDef Signs Tenant Bill of Rights for Military Families

Secretary of Defense Esper speaks to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians and spouses assigned to Offutt Air Force Base.
Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians and spouses assigned to Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., at the U.S. Strategic Command Command and Control Facility, Feb. 20, 2020 (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Julie R. Matyascik)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the service branches have committed to implement 15 new rights for military families living in on-base housing, which will go into effect by May 1.

These include the right to report poor housing to the chain of command without facing retaliation; to expect working fixtures, appliances and utilities; and access to military legal assistance.

Pentagon officials signed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights following a year of news highlighting dismal conditions -- including mold, pest infestation and lead contamination -- that many military families experienced in base housing managed by private companies.

"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 Tenant Bill of Rights states. "However, many of the rights set forth by Congress pertain to legal matters that do not lend themselves to unilateral action by the Department."

DoD officials specifically pointed out three rights -- access to maintenance history, a process for dispute resolution and the ability to withhold rent until disputes are resolved -- that were not included in this list, saying they would work with the private housing companies and, as necessary, Congress to make these benefits available.

Related: Army Finalizes Incentive Plan for Companies to Fix Base Housing Problems

As previously promised, the Tenant Bill of Rights requires several different, "convenient" ways for military families to contact their landlord and maintenance staff directly, in addition to access to an electronic work order system through which they can request maintenance or repairs and track its progress.

Landlords have been accused of falsifying their records to show work was completed sooner than they were. In one case, a leak was fixed in 20 minutes, but residents said it wasn’t repaired until more than a week later, a Reuters report found.

Military families should expect "prompt and professional maintenance and repair," the document states. After receiving a request, the landlord or staff will give a time frame for the maintenance or repair completion; if it's an issue that affects the housing's habitability, the landlord will pay for "prompt" relocation to other housing until the changes are completed.

Meanwhile, the Tenant Bill of Rights will provide protection from reprisal or retaliation for military families to report "inadequate housing standards" or issues with habitability to their chain of command, housing management office and landlord.

It specifically states that no tenant will be subjected to career interference, increased rent, decreased services, harassment or eviction.

Military families will get access through the service's housing management office to a military tenant advocate or a military legal assistance attorney. These experts would advise families on dispute methods, like mediation, arbitration and filing claims with the private housing management company or property manager.  

Basically, tenants can get help to request to initiate a dispute, but do not have a guaranteed right to a resolution.

Other rights it lays out include:

  • Tenants will get the same documents, forms and processes for housing at all military installations, to the extent allowed by local and federal laws;
  • Tenants will receive advance notice of the landlord, installation housing staff or chain of command entering the house, except for an emergency or abandonment;
  • There will be no non-refundable fees or rent credits held "arbitrarily."

Until officials fully implement the Tenant Bill of Rights by May 1, they ask military families to "leverage the support available from their respective Military Departments to address and resolve relevant housing issues."

"Tenants seeking assistance should continue to engage their housing office, installation leadership, or chain of command," the document states.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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