It may seem simple—if your rental property is overrun with rodents or is making you and your children ill—you move out. However, when your rental property is on a U.S. military base, your landlord is a military contractor, and you are stationed nowhere near friends or family, it’s not that simple at all. Add to these problems the fact that your housing—and any complaints you may make about it—are tied to your job. The reality for many military families is a choice between staying in housing that is unclean and unsafe, and leaving the military altogether. No one should have to make this choice, least of all the men and women who are serving our country and the families who are supporting them. As a Marine and attorney, I am here to help you understand what your options are when you are stuck in uninhabitable military housing.
What Is the Problem?
On military bases across the country—from Camp Pendleton in Southern California to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach—housing facilities are in embarrassing states of disrepair. Whether the houses are old and falling apart or are newer but were poorly constructed, military families are suffering. The Department of Defense saw this problem coming over 20 years ago when it decided to contract out housing operations to private management companies, passing the responsibility for maintenance and repair to them. Unfortunately, many of these companies have demonstrated a complete lack of concern for the safety of their residents. Recent investigative reports by the Reuters news agency have uncovered the following common problems on military bases across the country:
At Camp Pendleton, families have reported problems with mice in their homes and frogs in their water supply. Mice infestations are so bad that residents have had to throw out hundreds of dollars’ worth of food and have even found mouse droppings in baby cribs. In some cases, Lincoln Military Housing has blamed residents for not keeping their houses clean.
Toxic black mold, caused by uncontrolled dampness, is a problem on bases across the country—including in Patrician housing in New Orleans. When landlords refuse to take the proper steps to safely remove the mold, residents—particularly children—can suffer from respiratory problems.
In older base housing, such as on Fort Benning in Georgia, lead paint has been found both inside and outside homes. Thousands of military children have tested positive for lead poisoning, and far too many have suffered permanent developmental deficits because of the exposure.
So why not demand that these problems be fixed or, better yet, just move out? It’s not as easy as it seems.
Why It’s Hard to Complain or Move Out of Military Housing
If you live in military housing and are having an issue with your landlord, you are discovering just how difficult your situation is. Even if you are living with a dangerous biohazard such as black mold or rodent feces, you can’t call state or local authorities to do an inspection because they have no jurisdiction on military bases. You can’t ask the military to order tests for lead or mold because you are in privatized housing and the military has no authority or responsibility for your housing. If your landlord is blaming you for the problem—accusing you of keeping a dirty home or failing to take appropriate steps to report a problem—you may fear that your or your spouse’s command will find out and it will affect your career.
Fixing the problem yourself or moving out is not an option for many families because you simply don’t have the spare cash to do it. Many military families live paycheck to paycheck and the cost of a move, the sacrifice of a deposit, or the cost of removing mold or lead paint themselves are just not possible.
What You Can Do Now
You are angry and fearing for your children’s safety. What can you do? The first thing to do is to document EVERYTHING: take pictures of mold and rodent droppings, get paint chips tested for lead, report problems through the proper channels and keep copies of your reports, take your child to the doctor for respiratory problems or signs of developmental delay. Next, call me. I will advise you of your options and help you not only get out of your uninhabitable housing, but get you the money you may be entitled to for your troubles. You may feel trapped, but there are legal options. Please contact me online or call me directly at 855.982.2400. help military families all over the country deal with privatized landlords.