New Tenant Rights for Some Military Families in On-Base Housing

on-base housing tenant rights

New Tenant Rights for Some Military Families in On-Base Housing

In mid-February, a few additions were approved for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) 2020 Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights.

This bill, signed in February of 2020 and put into effect in May, “commits the [DoD] to ensuring privatized housing tenants receive quality housing and fair treatment from the… project owners that operate and maintain privatized [military] housing.” The bill was a requirement by law under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. It’s aim was to address the “systemic problems in military housing [that] came to light in 2018 following a series of reports by Reuters on the presence of mold, [rodent infestations], lead-based paint, [non-responsive landlords], dangerous wiring, and extensive damage in military homes managed by private companies.”

The Tenant Bill Of Rights covers issues including, but not limited to, the following areas:

  • The right to live in housing that meets health and environmental standards
  • The right to live in base housing that has working fixtures, appliances, and utilities
  • The right to live in a community with maintained common areas
  • The right to a written lease with clearly defined rental terms
  • 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
  • The right to have “sufficient time and opportunity” to prepare and be present for move-in and move-out inspections
  • The right to report inadequate housing standards to the Landlord, the chain of command, and housing management office without fear of reprisal or retaliation
  • The right of access to a Military Tenant Advocate or a military legal assistance attorney
  • The right to property management services provided by a Landlord that meet or exceed industry standards
  • The right to not pay non-refundable fees or have application of rent credits arbitrarily held

These recent additions were originally proposed back in 2020, but were tabled due to a need to further negotiate terms with the contracted companies. They are the four rights of tenants that are said to be “among the most important for military families.” The provisions include:

  • Mediated dispute resolution between landlords and tenants
  • Rent withholding (under some circumstances) until issues are resolved
  • Access to a housing unit’s maintenance history
  • Access to common forms and documents

The hope is that these changes will allow military families a stronger voice and additional support against the private companies in communications moving forward.

The new additions are said to go into effect by June 1 and will apply to rental lease agreements “at the vast majority of installations,” with hopes that the provisions can apply retroactively in most existing instances.

That “vast majority” only applies to 11 of the 14 private contracting companies though; 3 companies that manage family housing across all four major branches have not yet agreed to the additional provisions in their leases. The names of those companies were not disclosed.

It’s still a big step forward. Paul Cramer, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for sustainment said, “This represents a fundamental step in our ongoing effort to improve the department’s military housing program.” He also highlighted that the DoD was already seeing success with the initial provisions of the bill and has hope that these additions will have similar results.

The DoD instituted a rating-system, allowing families to provide feedback directly visible to garrison commanders, on a scale of one-to-five in response to housing maintenance or repair work. They’ve also already created the formal dispute process to support the first of the four additions mentioned above.

But there is still more work to be done. Government Accountability Office analyst Elizabeth Field applauds the progress made by the DoD so far, but points out that more oversight of contractors is needed.

And Subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., continues to express her concern over the health and welfare of military families forced to live in substandard housing; that is also something that could be addressed with more oversight of the contractors.

 

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About the author

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Samantha Cain has 10 years of experience as a freelance writer and content creator, specializing in a variety of topics such as higher education, personal finance, event planning, DIY projects, and military life. She holds a BA in English, is working towards an MS in Higher Education, and has been a military spouse for eight years. Having lived on a number of overseas military bases, she brings a unique perspective to her writing and strives to provide quality and beneficial information to the military community.