- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has approved a “tenant bill of rights” meant to guarantee safe and well-maintained housing for military personnel following a rash of horror stories of black mold, pest infestations and flooding in privatized military residential communities across the country.

The bill of rights sets out 15 guarantees for military personnel living in on-base housing now run by civilian companies. Included are the right to live in a home with working appliances, fixtures and utilities along with well-maintained common areas; the right to report problems up the chain of command and have a legal advocate on their side; and the right to a written lease with well-defined rental terms, among others.

“It is paramount that residents receive the full benefits of each right. 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,” according to the document.

Last year, the Military Family Advisory Network conducted a survey of residents at more than 100 bases across the country that challenged claims by private landlords of high satisfaction among occupants.

Shannon Razasadin, executive director of MFAN, said the new Pentagon pledge “isn’t perfect, but it is progress.”

“This is a step toward accountability and rebuilding the trust that has eroded around this issue,” Ms. Razasadin said.

She was grateful that her organization played a part but said the credit, ultimately belongs to thousands of military families who “bravely shared their stories with us.”

Houston-based attorney James Moriarty is representing several families in lawsuits against the military landlords. He complained that the new bill of rights did not address a tenant’s right to withhold rent money if the situation warrants it.

“I thought this was a golden opportunity for Congress and the military to do the right thing by these families. But, they did the wrong thing,” Mr. Moriarty said. “It’s all ‘song and dance, kabuki theater [BS].’”

Mr. Moriarty was recently at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, discussing the situation with service members.

“I met with some of the families and they described nightmares to me of what they’re going through,” Mr. Moriarty said. “I was there for two hours and I coughed for weeks after that. Being in their home for two hours made me sick as a dog.”

Mr. Esper told a House Armed Services Committee budget hearing Wednesday Pentagon officials still have concerns on such issues as giving families in military housing access to maintenance history; a process for dispute resolution; and the right to withhold rent while disputes are being addressed.

“There are legal contracts between the [Defense Department] and the individual companies,” Mr. Esper said.

Mr. Moriarty said he has spoken with more than 100 military families to learn about the problems with their on-base housing.

“I’m disgusted with what I hear,” the attorney said. “Nobody holds these companies accountable; nobody holds the military accountable and nobody holds Congress accountable. They need to put their money where their mouth is.”

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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