A survey found that roughly one-third of military families choose to live on base, citing economic reasons as the main driver of the decision. However, advocates and former tenants caution renters to know their rights before committing to base housing.
As with any decision, there are pros and cons to support on-post housing or opting to live off base. Privatized military housing can provide a significant cost savings, especially with current market prices, including utilities being part of the rental cost. But issues have come to light historically that prove renters can experience unsatisfactory living conditions in base housing communities.
Though DOD has oversight authority, a Reuters investigation found military families have faced poorly maintained homes, resulting in rampant mold and vermin infestations. Several filed lawsuits as a result.
“In the unit where my family and I live, we have ongoing issues with mold,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class LaMont DeShields, a current military base housing resident in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. “I’ve had military uniforms, including a set of dress whites, that I’ve had to replace because of mold damage.”
Megan Dew, military spouse and former Patuxent River child development home provider, agreed with DeShields’ concern about mold.
“Trying to get maintenance was a nightmare,” Dew said. “Once, our washer flooded the upper level, and [housing maintenance] came to fix the problem. They were prepared to leave without checking the ceiling fan even though it had been exposed to water. They were not worried about moisture, or anything, and mold is a major problem.”
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According to Kate Needham, executive director of Armed Forces Housing Advocates, renters should exercise caution and know their rights. She said prospective renters should be aware of the Tenant Bill of Rights that commits the DOD to ensuring privatized housing tenants receive quality housing and fair treatment from the owners that operate and maintain privatized military base housing.
Currently, five companies operating military base housing have not implemented all or parts of the Tenant Bill of Rights. As such, prospective renters should research the company managing the housing they are interested in renting.
“The best way to do that is to look on their website. If you can’t find [the Tenant Bill of Rights] on their website, definitely get it in writing from the management office,” Needham said.
In addition to knowing your rights as a renter, Needham recommended asking for a property’s history.
“We highly suggest that you ask for the property’s seven-year history, or if you have already moved in, ask for it anyway. The seven-year history gives you a really good idea of the scope of work and maintenance that has been done to the property,” Needham said. “Suppose you see something alarming such as emergency maintenance for a flood. In that case, you can ask the [military base housing] office to explain the work and preventive maintenance that was done afterward. It’s really important to know the history of your home so that if you find something like mold or deteriorating carpet, it’s not a surprise.”
Living on base can provide a range of benefits, according to BankRate, including a shorter commute to work, access to amenities like fitness centers and pools, security, and the opportunity to build relationships with others from the military community.
“Living in base housing was very convenient and close to my husband’s work,” Dew said. “He could walk to work if needed. We were also relatively close to amenities like the commissary, Exchange, and medical.”
Dew added that the base housing community was helpful for her child.
“Our son was able to interact with his peers who had a similar military upbringing and shared experiences,” she said.
Similarly, DeShields said he finds military base housing to be a benefit for his children who are homeschooled.
“Since my boys don’t go to public school, living in base housing provides a lot of opportunity for my kids to get that public interaction and develop their communication skills,” he said. “They also have friends who can relate to having a parent that is actively serving, and that’s a big plus.”