Safeguards for military families in privatized housing proposed in Congress

MILITARY TIMES, KAREN JOWERS

Military families living in privatized housing would get more protections, under proposed legislation introduced in the House and Senate, following hearings exploring some families’ problems with persistent mold, rodent infestation, water leaks and other problems, and their frustration in getting companies to address the issues.

“Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act,” introduced in the House on Thursday and in the Senate on March 7, would require installation commanders to withhold the service member’s rent from the landlord after officials have been notified of potential health, safety or environmental hazard, until steps are taken to remedy the problem — and the military housing official and the service member agree that it has been fixed.

The service secretaries have said they are finalizing a tenant’s bill of rights that would, among other things, provide that the rent be withheld from the landlord while the resident’s dispute is being heard. The tenant’s bill of rights, designed to address problems such as inadequate oversight, is expected to be finalized within several months.

It also would require DoD to withhold incentive fees paid to the landlord for persistent failure to address a health, safety or environmental hazard.

The proposed legislation is an effort to increase accountability and oversight over privatized housing companies.

“It is unacceptable that some military families around the country have little or no recourse when private contractors provide substandard housing,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., who introduced the bill in the House Thursday. “This bipartisan legislation is an important step in holding private housing companies accountable and empowering military families, and I will continue to work with members of both parties to support America’s service members,” Levin said in a statement.

The proposed legislation would also:

  • Require the company to pay relocation costs, including temporary lodging, for a service member and family who must leave their home because of the problems, and reimburse the family for any personal property damaged as a result of the problem.
  • Ensure that service members don’t have to pay a deposit, and any fee or penalty related to ending a lease early because of health, safety and environmental hazards in their housing unit,, except for normal wear and tear.
  • Create standard credentials for health, safety and environmental inspectors across the services, including contractors.
  • Require DoD to maintain an electronic work order system so that service members can request work be done on their unit, and track the progress of the work. Military housing officials would also track the progress.
  • Require the DoD Inspector General, as well as the military services’ IGs, to submit to Congress the results of any investigation into allegations of retaliation against a service member in connection with that service member reporting a problem with their housing unit.

Co-sponsors of the House bill are representatives Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn.; Katie Hill, D-Calif.; Elaine Luria, D-Va., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.

The original Senate bill was introduced March 7 by senators Mark Warner, D-Va.: Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

“The military must act quickly to address these dangerous housing conditions, and Congress should pass legislation to protect military families from ever having to go through this again,” said Kaine, in a statement. “Our bill would help improve military oversight and increase accountability. This is about making sure service members can feel safe in their own homes, and I’ll be pushing for legislation like this to be included in this year’s national defense bill.”

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