By Emily LaForme/Fort Campbell CourierAugust 28, 2019
FORT CAMPBELL. Ky. -- Committed to advocating for Soldiers and their Families, the Directorate of Public Works, Housing Division staff works hard to recoup as much money as possible for military renters as they move out of rental properties.
In the 2018 fiscal year alone, the Fort Campbell's Housing Division returned $16,920 to Soldiers and Families who filed a valid complaint regarding withheld deposit money from leasing companies. Of the 78 filed complaints, 12 were found valid, as investigated by Housing Services.
"We are the advocates for the service members [who] live in housing whether it's on post, off post, or in the barracks," said Yolanda McDaniel, deputy director of Housing Division and assistant Residential Communities Initiative manager. "One of our tasks as their advocate is to mediate any landlord or resident complaints that come into our office."
So far in the 2019 fiscal year, $50,293 has been recovered and returned to Soldiers and Families thanks to McDaniel and her team. McDaniel said 70 percent of service members stationed at Fort Campbell live off post.
"When a service member comes into our office with a concern, the first thing we do is investigate it to see if the complaint is valid," McDaniel said. "They have to fill out a release form allowing us to reach out their landlord on their behalf."
Part of the mediation process could recoup money that was taken from Soldiers or Army Families unnecessarily, such as security deposits, false damages, lease breaking fees or excessive rent.
McDaniel said the Housing Division staff often deals with concerns from Soldiers as they move out from a rental property. Typically these concerns are about not receiving their rental deposits back because of false claims.
"A smart service member has done a move-in inspection beforehand, and when they are ready to move out, they know how the rental should look," McDaniel said. "We assist any service member whether they came to us beforehand or not, we service any Department of Defense employee or service member that comes to our office."
Upon considering a lease agreement, McDaniel urges Soldiers to bring a copy of the lease to the Housing Services Office before signing, so someone on staff can check over the lease to make sure service member rights are not being waived.
"Our responsibility is to assure they live in adequate, affordable housing, and that laws are not being violated," McDaniel said. "When it comes to fair housing, the Landlord and Tenant Act, or the Service Member Civil Relief Act, our whole focus is to make sure those rights are enforced."
The office keeps records of complaints and investigations, should the disagreement between service member and the landlord necessitate legal action. McDaniel said oftentimes, landlords and leasing offices are very cooperative and easy to communicate with.
"We build relationships outside of the gate with property managers so that when we call, we get little to no pushback," McDaniel said. "Most of the time they are willing to work with us, and as long as service members have done their due diligence and the complaint is valid, we can normally recoup the money for them."
She encourages Soldiers to include the Housing Services Office representatives in the rental process. Service members should document the condition of their rental during move in and keep it with their personal records. Housing Services Office representatives also are available to accompany Soldiers and Families during the move out process.
"We highly recommend bringing a lease to us and letting us review it first," said Ted Reece, director of Housing Division. "Our mission is to protect service members' rights. We advocate for service members on post and off post, that is our responsibility."