What is the new Tenant Bill of Rights?

For years, military families who live in base housing managed by private housing companies have complained about unsafe and untreated conditions such as mold or animal infestations. There are numerous documented cases of families whose repair requests were ignored, or who were forced to remain in unsafe living conditions either because no other housing was available or because they couldn’t afford to move out on their own.

One of the main issues is that military families living on base have little power or legal recourse when there are issues with the private companies that manage their housing. Base housing areas do not fall under local state requirements and do not have to grant access to outside contractors or environmental experts. When families request repairs, ask for environmental safety tests, or want to document ongoing issues, private companies can simply say no. The service member does not control their BAH and can’t withhold payment for a sub-par living situation. In the worst cases, service members reported that housing companies had harassed or threatened their families. Some housing management companies even brought issues to the service member’s chain of command to negatively impact their military career.

In 2019, the issue finally gained national attention. After Reuter’s published an article exposing problems with private housing companies, military spouses and family members brought their concerns before Congress. One of their top requests was a Tenant Bill of Rights that would protect families while they were tenants of military housing. A Bill of Rights would grant families additional protection and options if their maintenance requests were ignored.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed the bill into effect in February 2020. The Bill of Rights lists 15 rights that were covered for military families living in privatized housing, beginning on May 1, 2020.

What is included in the new Tenant Bill of Rights?

Because the Tenant Bill of Rights affects all military families living in privatized housing areas (usually called on base or on post housing), it’s important for you to know what is in the bill. These are your rights, and you are allowed to speak up about them! You can read the full list of tenant rights in the bill here. Here is a summary of the important changes:

  • Yes, you have a right to live in a house that is safe, meets health standards, and has functioning appliances.
  • You have a right to be present for move-in and move-out inspections.
  • Before signing a lease, you should receive a plain-language brief of your community’s expectations and the steps for making a maintenance request.
  • When you report inadequate housing standards, you can do so without fearing unlawful harassment, eviction, or career interference from the housing company.
  • You can seek legal advice from a military legal assistance attorney, and they are allowed to help you file claims against a landlord.
  • When repairs are requested, you have the right to an electronic work order system and multiple ways to communicate with the housing company. They must complete repairs in a reasonable amount of time, inform you before they enter your home, and—when necessary—relocate you at no cost to you until the repairs are completed.

These are huge changes and a major victory for military families! You can watch our interview with one of the privatized housing legislation experts here.

What is not yet part of the Tenant Bill of Rights?

There are three major rights that military families requested which are not yet covered in the Tenant Bill of Rights. These are:
1) access to maintenance history of their property,
2) clear process for dispute resolution, and
3) withholding rent until disputes are resolved.
On those matters, the bill simply states that the DoD will continue to work with private housing companies on those matters. There is still a lot of work to do and a long road ahead.

PCSgrades applauds the hard work from military families that has led to this legislation. But we also understand that the documents are meaningless without any oversight or repercussions. That’s why our website features trusted reviews written by and for fellow military families. If you want the true details about military housing neighborhoods on your base, then check out our reviews! If you have an opinion about a neighborhood you have lived in on base, then create an account (it’s free!) and leave your review today. This will help fellow military families make an informed decision and choose the home that is best for them.

If you currently live on base, you may have seen your local privatized housing company put out information this summer regarding the Tenant Bill of Rights. Each private company is organizing their own response. Some are sending tenants emails or flyers outlining the rights, while others are asking tenants to sign a form acknowledging they know their rights. Be sure to read documents carefully before signing. In most cases, the companies are simply doing their due diligence to inform tenants of their rights. But you want to ensure that you don’t waive any rights when signing a base housing lease.