The Department of the Air Force is implementing the remaining four rights for housing tenants, including a universal lease, a process to resolve disputes with property owners and procedures for withholding rent when applicable.
The Department of Defense issued policy guidance in February 2021 on the implementation and timing of the remaining four provisions of the Tenant Bill of Rights, which expands protection measures for military families living in privatized housing. Along with the universal lease and dispute resolution process, the Tenant Bill of Rights ensures access to unit maintenance history, and establishes a process to withhold rent payment while in formal dispute resolution.
With a few exceptions, the Air Force expects all 18 tenant rights to be available to tenants in all Air Force and Space Force housing programs by the end of Fiscal Year 2021.
The expanded rights protect tenants and offer recourse if their housing concerns are not adequately addressed, said Col. Sara Deaver, Air Force Civil Engineer Center Housing Division chief.
“Empowering tenants and amplifying their voice is at the heart of the department’s comprehensive plan to improve the privatized housing program,” Deaver said. “The Tenant Bill of Rights is our assurance to our Air Force and Space Force families that we recognize their rights and their needs as tenants, and that those needs are our top priority.”
The universal lease standardizes the general contents of the privatized housing lease from installation to installation. The maintenance history provision grants prospective and existing tenants seven years of available maintenance history before a prospective tenant is asked to sign a lease or within five business days of an existing tenant’s request. The formal dispute resolution process creates a structure for tenants to pursue disputes with project owners, and the rent withhold clause allows service members to withhold their housing allowance in certain instances while the dispute is being resolved.
If tenants feel their rights are not being met, they should start by communicating the issue directly to the landlord, said Yvonne Brabham, Air Force Housing Division technical director.
“Solving problems at the lowest level typically yields the quickest results,” Brabham said. “If the landlord hasn’t resolved the issue after a follow-up call, they should escalate the issue to their military housing office.”
If the military housing office and other resources, like resident advocates, are unable to resolve the issue, the MHO can escalate the issue within both the military chain of command and the landlord’s management structure. If tenants feel the issue is not being resolved at the local level, they can contact the Air Force housing section’s toll-free hotline at 800-482-6431 and AFCEC will investigate the problem.
As the Department of the Air Force’s housing program managers, AFCEC plays a central role in ensuring tenants are able to execute the rights outlined in the bill. Since 2019, program leaders have been executing an improvement plan consisting of 51 housing initiatives aimed at ensuring Airmen, Guardians and their families have access to safe, healthy housing.
“We’ve worked hard to overhaul the housing program to rectify shortfalls and strengthen our commitment to Airmen, Guardians and families,” Brabham said. “Today’s program has more oversight and leadership involvement, clear policies, better communication and puts more power in tenants’ hands.”
“With policy guidance now in place for the final four rights, the department is closing in on the finish line to fully implement all 51 improvement actions enterprise wide,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations Robert Moriarty.
“We’ve implemented all measures at most of our installations and are working with those project owners to create state-specific addenda to ensure the final rights comply with state and local law,” Moriarty said.
The Air Force is continuing to work with project owners to obtain agreements on the final provisions at the remaining installations and, with few exceptions, expect those rights to be accessible for all tenants across the Department of the Air Force by October.