This article by Karen Jowers originally appeared on Military Times, the nation's largest independent newsroom dedicated to covering the military and veteran community.
Military tenants will have to wait four more months to get all their remaining tenant rights, despite congressional testimony from military leaders over the past few weeks assuring lawmakers those remaining rights would be place in June.
In an announcement from the Defense Department late Friday, a Defense Department official stated that “with few exceptions, the DoD expects all 18 tenant rights to be fully available at all installations with privatized housing by the end of fiscal 2021” — the end of September.
While 14 of those 18 congressionally-mandated tenant rights were implemented a year ago, four key tenant rights have been under negotiation: a dispute resolution process, a universal lease, process for withholding rent during dispute resolutions, and providing a tenant with seven years of a unit’s maintenance history. A number of privatized housing projects have already incorporated these rights — with the exception of the universal lease, said Paul Cramer, performing the duties of assistant defense secretary for sustainment and chief housing officer, in the announcement.
There are still installations where the other three key tenant rights are still unmet, but it is not clear where. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a question about where those key rights have yet to be implemented.
“Military members and their families who are tenants of [privatized] housing should check with the property manager or the government’s installation housing office to confirm which of the tenant rights have been implemented at their installation,” said Cramer, in the announcement.
Cramer said DoD has issued policy guidance for implementing the 18 tenant rights at all the housing projects. “Through negotiation and lots of work with our privatized housing partners, nearly all of the [privatized] housing companies have agreed to implement all 18 tenant rights at their existing privatized housing projects,” he said.
But while policy guidance has been issued, it doesn’t mean that all the rights have been implemented for military families.
“I’m absolutely shocked,” said Sarah Lynne Kline, of the Military Housing Advocates’ Network, about the delay. “The tenant bill of rights is still failing military families. We’ve been promised again and again for a date of implementation, and that date continues to be pushed.
“Also, there’s no accountability to ensure the housing companies are complying with the tenant bill of rights. …. And they want the families to go out and ask [about their tenant bill of rights]? They’re not going to publish a list?
“I think we can chalk up the tenant bill of rights as a failure.”
The universal lease framework will standardize the general content of the military privatized housing tenant lease to the maximum extent possible, given the need for tenant leases to comply with state and local requirements, the announcement stated.
In the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress mandated the 18 tenant rights. It was part of comprehensive reform provisions to address pervasive issues with mold, rodents and other health, safety and environmental hazards in privatized military housing.
Military families 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.
Defense officials are working to implement additional reforms to improve the safety, quality and maintenance of privatized housing, and to ensure accountability at all levels of DoD and the housing companies — in order to perform the oversight that was originally intended with the privatization program, Cramer said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has also established a deputy assistant defense secretary for housing position, to support the chief housing officer in oversight of privatized housing.
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