Eight military families who claim they were sickened by mold, vermin and other toxins while living in privately-managed housing at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph and Laughlin Air Force Base are now upping the ante in court.
They sued contractor Hunt Military Communities for damages and mental anguish in October, attributing their housing problems to the company’s "profound neglect, malfeasance and greed."
In an amended pleading filed Thursday, they asked a federal judge to stop Hunt from putting more people at risk.
The families want Hunt to be prevented from moving anyone else into base housing at Randolph or Laughlin until an outside inspector deems the homes safe to live in. In the meantime, they want to freeze the automatic rent payments Hunt receives.
The families also seek to enjoin Hunt from retaliating against those who complain of mold and other health and safety conditions, according to their court filing.
“For over a decade, Hunt has betrayed unsuspecting military families by collecting their government guaranteed rent and relying on military culture, fear of military command, and short-term military tenancies to consciously ignore pervasive and atrocious housing conditions,” the complaint reads.
“Meanwhile, Hunt – a landlord with no regulatory oversight and an economic incentive to be willfully blind – negligently maintains the houses, applying ‘band-aid’ fixes in a less than good and workmanlike manner without a care for its tenants.”
James Moriarty, lead counsel on behalf of the families, said the lawsuit was about basic accountability.
“All we're seeking is for these families to receive the quality housing that the companies claim they're providing. The housing that our government and our military is paying for. The housing that these families thought they were getting when they moved onto the base,” he said.
The families’ request came shortly after Hunt announced a $5 million renovation of affected homes at Randolph, which is expected to be finished by August 2022.
In response, the complaint reads, “While skeptical that Hunt’s $15,000-per-house plan is adequate for the 317 houses at Randolph, Plaintiffs appreciate that Hunt acknowledges the need for substantial repairs. Nevertheless, Hunt has failed to provide any relief to the families who live in or are vacating the houses…”
On Thursday, the House Armed Service Committee questioned Hunt’s CEO John Ehle and four other housing contractors about poor conditions in base housing around the country.
Ehle said Thursday that his company was working toward better maintenance and communication with tenants. Hunt, one of the nation's largest military housing owners, operates 52,000 homes on 49 military installations.
“We lost their trust. We're sorry and we want to get it right,” Ehle said. “We have heard our residents loud and clear, and we're singularly focused on rebuilding their trust in us and improving their living experience.”
“In the last year, we've enhanced maintenance processes, added key positions and improved training,” he added. “Finally, we are actively supporting reforms to ensure the long-term success of the MHPI [military housing privatization initiative] program.”
Military housing became privatized in 1996. At that time, the military services were authorized to enter into agreements with private developers to own, maintain and operate family housing through 50-year leases.
Much of Thursday’s congressional testimony focused on finances. Private housing company representatives pointed to fluctuating basic housing allowances, the rent compensation provided to service members when government quarters are not provided for them. They also pointed to contractual obstacles, and difficulty in planning for future infrastructure investments.
Hunt Military Communities did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the litigation pending in San Antonio.
Similar complaints have been filed against military housing contractors in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Maryland and Florida.
Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.