This article by Karen Jowers originally appeared on Military Times, the nation's largest independent newsroom dedicated to covering the military and veteran community.
Defense officials are still working with five privatized housing landlords to provide all the protections under the tenant bill of rights to 10,056 military families, according to a Pentagon’s watchdog report.
Landlords at five Air Force installations have yet to implement the right of military families to enter a dispute resolution process or to have their Basic Allowance for Housing rent payments held in escrow until the dispute resolution process is complete. Many families believe those two protections are essential to improvements in privatized housing.
Defense officials have worked with the 14 landlords nationwide who operate privatized housing at 172 locations, and have secured agreements with all but five landlords for all 18 protections in the DoD tenant bill of rights, according to the DoD Inspector General report released Oct. 3.
For more than a year, all the other Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps installations have had the 18 protections in place for their military families in privatized housing.
The five Air Force installations where the remaining rights aren’t in place are:
- Boyer Hill Military Housing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah
- Burlington Capital Real Estate at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska
- JL Properties at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska
- Miller-Valentine Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
- United Communities at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey
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Three of the five landlords — JL Properties, Miller-Valentine Group and United Communities — aren’t providing the seven-year maintenance histories to prospective tenants; the other two have made those available, the IG notes. These three landlords have a combined total of 7,010 privatized military family housing units.
“These prospective tenants do not have access to the same level of information about the housing unit as other prospective tenants when deciding whether a housing unit is an acceptable choice for themselves and their families,” the auditors wrote.
These provisions haven’t been implemented for military families because the landlords aren’t legally required to retroactively include these provisions in the existing legal agreements. “According to an August 2020 DoD Office of the General Counsel memorandum, landlords are not legally required to retroactively include the provisions unless they sign a new or renewed legal agreement,” the auditors noted.
The DoD Inspector General is required by law to evaluate DoD’s reforms of its oversight of military privatized housing, related to health, safety and environmental hazards. The tenant bill of rights and other reforms were part of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that service members and their families have safe, quality and well-maintained housing.
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The act requires DoD to seek voluntary agreements with all landlords. Auditors found DoD officials are still trying to reach agreements with the five remaining landlords to include those provisions for a dispute resolution process; the right to withhold a tenant’s BAH rent in escrow pending resolution; and the availability of the seven-year maintenance history. DoD has also issued policy that requires the inclusion of the provisions of the 2020 law in future legal agreements.
The comprehensive reform provisions were put in place to address pervasive issues with mold, rodents and other health, safety and environmental hazards in privatized military housing.
Military families had called for a dispute resolution process and a process to withhold rent if the landlord doesn’t fix the problems. Families testified about frustration over inability to get some of the private companies to fix the problems, and the lack of assistance from their military leadership on some bases.
The law also put provisions in place to strengthen military oversight of privatized family housing. The IG auditors found that installation housing officials at some installations can’t track and document their oversight of privatized housing in DoD’s enterprise Military Housing Information Management System, or eMH, or they don’t have access to the full functionality of the eMH. DoD didn’t populate eMH with all privatized housing records, as was required by a 2014 DoD policy, auditors stated.
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Accurate data about inventory are needed to prompt housing officials to do specific oversight activities required by law, auditors stated. For example, they’ll be able to attach a record of each physical inspection performed in vacant housing units.
Navy officials have completed the inventory of their housing units, which includes Marine Corps housing, in the eMH system. Army and Air Force officials have made progress, with the Army expecting to populate the inventory at the remaining 10 Army installations by the end of October. The Air Force is expected to finish its inventory at the remaining 10 Air Force bases in December.
Without the complete inventory or the complete functionality of eMH, the housing officials at certain locations have to do additional work to track and document their oversight of privatized family housing, outside of the eMH system.
The IG didn’t provide any recommendations in the report.
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