FORT LEE, Va. – Military family housing residents may recall talk over the past year of a forthcoming tenant bill of rights that would articulate the DOD’s expectations for safe and properly maintained on-base homes.
That document is now a reality.
Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper signed the document on May 1 after it was endorsed by the civilian-appointed leaders of each military branch. Last week, Installation Management Command issued a directive to inform military housing occupants Army-wide about it, to ensure they are aware of the 15 rights that will benefit them and the five tenant responsibilities they need to embrace while living on post.
Installation Housing Chief Al Williams said residents should be excited about the Privatized Housing Tenant Bill of Rights because it represents far more than just words on paper.
“It’s the fulfillment of a promise we should have made back in the late ‘90s when the Army was laying the groundwork for private companies to take over military housing operations and upkeep,” he observed of the process known as the Residential Communities Initiative.
Army leaders have mentioned time and again over the past 18 months how the “team fumbled the ball” back then by not establishing an oversight plan or repercussions for unsatisfactory performance.
“We handed over housing with no solid agreement for military oversight or concrete protections for residents in place,” Williams said. “The Privatized Housing Tenant Bill of Rights puts us on the correct path and has longevity. It is service leaders and CEOs of privatized housing companies who agreed to the document saying ‘we’re not going to let a housing crisis like the one that erupted at the end of 2018 happen again.”
The full Tenant Bill of Rights reads as follows:
“The Department of Defense is fully committed to ensuring our nation’s most-valued resource – its military service members and their families – have access to safe, quality and well-maintained homes and communities on DOD installations.
“The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020 set out 18 rights of military service members and their families (tenants) residing in privatized housing. The (DOD) commits to ensuring that privatized housing tenants receive quality housing and fair treatment from the Military Housing Privatization Initiative project owners (MHPI companies) that operate and maintain privatized housing.
“It is paramount that residents receive the full benefit of each right. The DOD, 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.
“(Some) of the rights set forth by Congress pertain to legal matters that do not lend themselves to unilateral action by the department. To the extent it is not already the case, the military departments commit to working with the MHPI companies to incorporate these rights and procedures into appropriate project legal documents. In some cases, more work is required before the benefits of these rights are fully available to tenants.”
The Department commits to providing the full benefit of the following 15 rights by May 1, 2020.
1. The right to reside in a housing unit and a community that meets applicable health and environmental standards.
2. The right to reside in a housing unit that has working fixtures, appliances and utilities and to reside in a community with well-maintained common areas and amenity spaces.
3. The right to a written lease with clearly defined rental terms to establish tenancy in a housing unit, including any addendums and other regulations imposed by the landlord regarding occupancy of the housing unit and use of common areas.
4. The right to a plain-language briefing, before signing a lease and 30 days after move-in, by the installation housing office on all rights and responsibilities associated with tenancy of the housing unit, including information regarding the existence of any additional fees authorized by the lease, any utilities payments, the procedures for submitting and tracking work orders, the identity of the military tenant advocate, and the dispute resolution process.
5. The right to have sufficient time and opportunity to prepare and be present for move-in and move-out inspections, including an opportunity to obtain and complete necessary paperwork.
6. The right to report inadequate housing standards or deficits in habitability of the housing unit to the landlord, the chain of command and housing management office without fear of reprisal or retaliation, including the following forms: (A) unlawful recovery of, or attempt to recover, possession of the housing unit; (B) unlawfully increasing rent, decreasing services or increasing the obligations of a tenant; (C) interference with a tenant's right to privacy; (D) harassment of a tenant; (E) refusal to honor the terms of the lease; or (F) interference with the career of a tenant.
7. The right of access to a military tenant advocate or a military legal assistance attorney, through the housing management office of the installation of the department at which the housing unit is located to assist in the preparation of requests to initiate dispute resolution.
8. The right to receive property management services provided by a landlord that meet or exceed industry standards and are performed by professionally and appropriately trained, responsive and courteous customer service and maintenance staff.
9. The right to have multiple, convenient methods to communicate directly with the landlord’s maintenance staff and to receive consistently honest, accurate, straightforward and responsive communications.
10. The right to have access to an electronic work order system through which a tenant may request maintenance or repairs of a housing unit and track the progress of the work.
11. With respect to maintenance and repairs to a housing unit, the right to the following: (A) prompt and professional maintenance and repair; (B) to be informed of the required timeframe for maintenance or repairs when a request is submitted; and (C) in the case of maintenance or repairs necessary to ensure habitability of a housing unit, to prompt relocation into suitable lodging or other housing at no cost to the tenant until the (work) is completed.
12. The right to receive advice from military legal assistance on procedures involving mechanisms for resolving disputes with the property management company or property manager to include mediation, arbitration and filing claims against a landlord.
13. The right to have reasonable, advance notice of any entrance by a landlord, installation housing staff or members of the chain of command into the housing unit, except in the case of an emergency or abandonment of the housing unit.
14. The right to not pay non-refundable fees or have application of rent credits arbitrarily held.
15. The right to expect common documents, forms and processes for housing units will be the same for all installations (across the DOD) to the maximum extent applicable without violating local, state and federal regulations.
“With respect to the three remaining rights – access to maintenance history, process for dispute resolution and withholding of rent until disputes are resolved – the DOD will continue to work with MHPI companies and, as necessary, Congress to ensure the benefits of these rights are fully available. While the department develops standardized, formal processes for these rights, service members and their families will be able to leverage the support available from their respective military branches to address and resolve relevant housing issues. Tenants seeking assistance should continue to engage their housing office, installation leadership or chain of command.”
The five tenant responsibilities are as follows:
1. Prompt Reporting. The responsibility to report in a timely manner any apparent environmental, safety or health hazards of the home to the landlord and any defective, broken, damaged or malfunctioning building systems, fixtures, appliances or other parts of the home, the common areas or related facilities.
2. Care for the Home. The responsibility to maintain standard upkeep of the home as instructed by the housing management office.
3. Personal Conduct. The responsibility to conduct oneself as a tenant in a manner that will not disturb neighbors, and to assume responsibility for one’s actions and those of a family member or guest in the housing unit or common areas, including the responsibility not to engage in any inappropriate, unauthorized or criminal activity in the home or common areas.
4. Access by Landlord. The responsibility to allow the landlord reasonable access to the rental home in accordance with the terms of the tenant lease agreement to (for) necessary repairs in a timely manner.
5. Rules and Guidelines. The responsibility to read all lease-related materials provided by the landlord and to comply with the terms of the lease agreement, lease addenda and any associated rules and guidelines.
The Installation Housing Office serves as Fort Lee’s military tenant advocate, Williams emphasized. Categories of assistance his team provides include, but are not limited to, landlord-tenant dispute resolution; property inspections, including walkthroughs on behalf of the tenant if he or she is not available; quality control such as calls to check resident satisfaction 15 and 60 days after move in; and administrative assistance with utility company fees/deposits, connections and questionable billings.
Calling attention to tenant responsibility No. 1, Williams said residents can conveniently submit work order requests through the Hunt Housing Community’s RentCafe app. For emergency or urgent assistance – situations that threaten the safety, health or well-being of residents – individuals should call their respective neighborhood’s work order desk: Monroe Manor/Washington Grove, 804-732-7460; Adams Chases/Madison Park, 732-7480; Harrison Villa/Jefferson Terrace, 722-4327; and Jackson Circle, 733-7884.
“There is much more to discuss in regard to the Tenant Bill of Rights,” Williams further noted. “During our quarterly resident town hall next month, we’ll talk about the plan for resident notification when someone is going to enter their home, for example, and discuss specifics about housing area appearance and conduct.”