FORT KNOX, Ky. — Fort Knox has joined over 36 other installations in implementing the full Tenant Bill of Rights for privatized military housing after several months of discussion among Army officials.
On May 1, 2020, then-Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper signed the original bill of rights as “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.” Many installations eventually initiated 15 of 18 points, with the understanding that the final three would need to be ironed out by July 30, 2021.
A year later, Fort Knox and many other installations have released the bill of rights containing all 18 points. One key item provides the glue for the entire bill of rights, according to U.S. Army Installation Management Command officials.
“It was all tied to coming up with common documents, and the common document was the universal lease,” said Connie Glenn, chief of G4 Housing Division, IMCOM. “The universal lease has been, or will be, implemented Army-wide to all privatization projects.”
By “universal lease,” Glenn explained that Soldiers and their Families can expect to see many of the same terms on any lease, whether they are living at Fort Benning, Georgia, or Fort Wainwright, Alaska. There will be exceptions, however.
“There are some variances to that because these are private companies and as such, those private companies are bound by state and local laws as well,” said Glenn. “There are some specifics that each individual project will have to look at.”
An important decision point was how the dispute resolution process will specifically be handled. Because much of the bill of rights focuses on tenants receiving a residence “that meets applicable health and environmental standards,” some of the steps for tenants and managers resolving issues satisfactorily have required some additional discussion.
What has come out of the discussion is a two-step process: informal and formal.
“The informal is really the Army chain of command trying to resolve issues rapidly at the lowest possible level,” said Glenn. “This leverages the Garrison commander’s leadership and proximity, and an outreach ability to the unit chain of command, the tenant and the local partner.”
A dispute can be wide-ranging, according to Glenn.
“It can be, ‘I don’t like the response time for my maintenance call,’ or ‘I think they damaged my household goods when they were moving it to do a maintenance call,’” said Glenn. “If, however, at the end of that informal dispute resolution things are not resolved to everybody’s liking, the tenant can then initiate a formal resolution.”
This process is open only to military tenants, spouses and dependents, Glenn said.
A right found in the document that requires some explanation is Point 17: “Rent segregation.” Glenn said tenants who feel they have been negatively impacted by an unfulfilled work order can request a portion of their rent money be withheld for up to 60 days, if necessary, to encourage the housing management company to resolve the issue.
This doesn’t mean that tenants can stop paying their rent.
“Instead of the money going into accounts receivable, they set that money aside, and they await that final disposition,” said Glenn. “[Tenants] should continue to pay their rent and let the process work its way out.”
Another important point both Glenn and Fort Knox Housing Division Chief Mary-Ellen Correia made is that a tenant needs to attempt a resolution with the housing management company prior to filing any informal or formal complaint.
Once an informal complaint is launched, however, the Garrison commander has 10 days to have it investigated and attempted to be resolved. During a resolution session, the service member should attend rather than a member of their chain of command.
“If you send your sergeant major, he’s not going to be able to resolve the issue,” said Correia. “A service member can’t send a representative who doesn’t have power of attorney to resolve it.”
The Garrison commander sits at the heart of the resolution process with the power to get both parties together, declare a dispute resolved or raise the dispute to the formal level, which will send it to IMCOM, where they will assign it to a resolution investigator for a final decision.
To date, IMCOM has received one informal complaint across all installations; no formal complaints.
Correia said much of what the Tenant Bill of Rights is designed to accomplish has already been in place at Fort Knox for a while.
“We have done mediations in the past with residents. If the Army Housing Office isn’t able to resolve it, we’ll bring it to the Garrison command to help mediate a resolution,” said Correia. “We’ve never had it go beyond that, though.”
Correia said she believes the installation is fortunate to have a quality housing partner that works with tenants to get issues resolved in a timely manner:
“We have a really good relationship with [Lendlease].”