March 7, 2019 / 5:37 PM / 7 months ago

U.S. senator wants criminal investigation of military base landlords

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks during U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh's U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) - U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal called on Thursday for a criminal fraud investigation of private landlords who operate housing on U.S. military bases, following Reuters reports that showed how thousands of U.S. military families were subjected to serious health and safety hazards in on-base housing.

Blumenthal was speaking at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee called to discuss how to hold the military and contractors accountable for substandard living conditions on some bases.

The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines unveiled a proposed tenant bill of rights on Wednesday that would hand more power to military families facing housing hazards.

The proposed bill could usher in a major overhaul of the military’s two-decade-old housing privatization program. Among other steps, it will require the military to renegotiate contracts – worth billions of dollars – with the real estate companies and bondholders who back the deals, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said in an interview.

The measure was prompted by a Reuters series, “Ambushed at Home,” that detailed how thousands of U.S. military families have been subjected to hazards including mold, lead poisoning risks, and pest infestations but have only limited tenant rights under the military’s confidential contracts with private landlords.

Read the series at: reut.rs/2t1Y2UA

A draft of the document, signed by the secretaries of the Navy, Army and Air Force, proposes several measures. One would allow military base tenants to withhold rent payments from landlords if housing troubles persist, potentially resulting in refunds. Other provisions would guarantee tenants’ access to housing advocates when they dispute landlords or allow them to move, at no cost, to “suitable lodging” if repairs aren’t made.

Reporting by Michael Pell; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Phil Berlowitz and Cynthia Osterman

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