When you live on a military base, or off-base in military housing, you have a right to housing that is clean and safe. Unfortunately, too many of our servicemen and women across the country have experienced just the opposite. Not only is this an issue to be taken up with the Family Housing Office, but if you are forced to move out - or are prevented from using parts of your house - because of unsafe conditions, you may have cause for a lawsuit against your landlord under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
Deplorable Conditions in Military Housing Across the Country
First, a little background. Much of the housing available to members of the military—both on and off base—is owned and managed by private contracting companies, not by the U.S. Government. Multiple reports over the years have uncovered dangerous conditions in housing operated by these companies. An investigation by Reuters in 2018, discovered lead paint in military housing in Fort Benning, GA, West Point, NY, and Fort Knox, KY, among others. One major company, Lincoln Military Housing, is responsible for housing on 29 military installations in 12 states, including Camp Pendleton, China Lake, Lemoore, Seal Beach, and more in California. Recently, rats and frogs were found in the water supply on Camp Pendleton and residents have complained of termites in their homes. Other reports of black mold and rodent infestations in Lincoln Military Housing have also surfaced.
So, What Do You Do When This Happens to You?
Obviously, if you find these conditions in the house where your family lives, you will want to get out—and you should. However, as a servicemember, you are protected under SCRA from being evicted without a court order. In California, if you are forced to leave a rental property because it is uninhabitable, this is known as constructive eviction. Therefore, if a servicemember is forced to leave military housing because of lead paint, black mold, or pest infestation, he may take legal action against the landlord for violation of his SCRA rights, as well as being released from the lease. You may also be entitled to financial compensation.
We Can Take Legal Action Together
If we can prove that, while on active duty, you were evicted without a court order—whether you live in military housing or not, you may be awarded damages. To prove constructive eviction, we must show that:
- The conditions of rented property are uninhabitable because of landlord’s actions or inaction.
- The landlord was given notice and reasonable opportunity to fix the problem.
- The problem wasn’t caused by the tenant (leaving garbage or food in the unit, flooding the bathroom, failing to tell landlord about broken windows or leaking appliance, etc.)
- The rental unit was vacated within a reasonable time after realizing that the place was uninhabitable.
Pictures showing poor living conditions and reports from independent inspectors will help us prove this claim. You will need to inform the landlord in writing of the problems and give him a reasonable amount of time to fix the issue.
What You Should Do If This Is Happening to You
If you are experiencing poor living conditions as an active duty servicemember, my advice is to do the following:
- If your family’s safety is compromised, leave the property.
- Take pictures as evidence of mold, rodents, etc. Get outside testing for lead if your house was built before 1978 and you have kids 6 years old or younger (both testing of paint and blood testing of occupants).
- Inform the landlord in writing of the problem and request immediate repair and clean up.
- Call me!
I will not charge you a thing to make sure you are released from your lease without penalty, determine if you are owed damages and sue the landlord if so, and to provide counseling and advice if you’re considering moving out. If we win damages from the landlord, my fees will come out of your settlement.
You Deserve Better
The fact that the men and women who have sacrificed to serve our country—and their families—may be living in deplorable conditions is outrageous. If you are on active duty and are dealing with rodents, mold, lead paint, tainted drinking water, or any other danger in a rental property, call me as soon as possible at 855.982.2400. You deserve to be treated better and I’ll make sure you are!