March 7 (UPI) -- All four military branches of the U.S. Department of Defense put together a joint Tenant Bill of Rights designed to prevent substandard housing and clarify rights for service members and their families.
The document was released on Wednesday night, one day before a hearing Thursday for the service chiefs before the Senate Armed Services Committee amid reports of housing problems.
"It is intended to increase the accountability of privatized housing companies by putting more oversight authority in the hands of local military leaders," according to a Pentagon statement released Wednesday night. "All three service secretaries have seen firsthand and reviewed problems in housing units, and the Tenant Bill of Rights is intended to help remedy them by both protecting and empowering service members and their families."
The 12-point Tenant Bill of Rights, which the Pentagon plans to implement in the coming weeks, will be enforced through renegotiated leases with privatized housing companies. The Tampa Bay Times reported private companies manage about 99 percent of all base family housing.
The Senate Armed Services Committee's hearing is called Chain of Command's Accountability to Provide Safe Military Housing and Other Building Infrastructure to Servicemembers and Their Families.
The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force, the chief of naval operations and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller are listed as witnesses.
The Senate Armed Services Committee's Joint Subcommittee on Personnel and Readiness and Management Support heard from military families about privatized military housing on Feb. 13. A House committee also heard about housing problems.
Families detailed problems with faulty wiring, lead paint, mold, poor water quality and pestilence.
In the documents, residents have the right to live in safe homes in working order that meet health and environmental standards. If repairs aren't made within 30 calendar days, a resident shall "be offered a no-cost move into an alternative residence on the installation or within the surrounding community."
In dealing with problems, they have the right to have landlord-tenant disputes resolved by a "neutral decision maker," responsive communications between tenant and the landlord and maintenance staff, as well as a housing advocate to provide advice and support to tenants.
"Residents have the right to engage government housing staff or the Installation Chain of Command regarding housing issues without fear of reprisal," the document says.
Late last month, the Marine Corps and Navy issued directives to fix problems with on- and off-base housing. Commanders and senior enlisted leaders were ordered to request a voluntary home visit by April 15 with each Marine and sailor in their command who resides in government quarters, privatized military housing or an off-base civilian rental property.
"As we have discovered, in some cases the condition of our government and public private venture family housing is not where it should be," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russ Smith wrote to subordinates. "The government role in the privatized partnership arrangement became too passive, leaving the day-to-day operation of the housing program to the residents and the private partners."
Smith testified at a Feb. 7 hearing on quality of life issues in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies. Smith told lawmakers the Navy wasn't seeing "the same sort of systemic issues and complaints" that were plaguing the other services.
On Feb., 15, Phyllis L. Bayer, the assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and the environment, toured the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune to check out housing at the North Carolina base, which is rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson toured MacDill Air Force Base last week in Tampa.
Residents have complained about health problems from exposure to mold. One family member mentioned concerns about retaliation.
"It is a step in the right direction," Amie Norquist, wife of an Army officer at MacDill and mother of four told the Tampa Bay Times.
Last July, 11 military families sued the companies that own and manage Keesler Air Force Base housing in Mississippi over toxic mold.