Military families sue private housing firm over mold, safety hazards at Fort Meade

Military families sue private housing firm over mold, safety hazards at Fort Meade
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Ten military families on Tuesday sued Corvias Property Management over what they claim was a lack of action to hazardous housing conditions and exposure to toxic mold at one of the largest Army bases in the United States.

The families, who all lived in military housing on-base at Fort Meade, Md., filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against Corvias and Meade Communities. Corvias oversees the fort’s on-base housing while Meade leases the properties from the United States. 

The suit alleges that the companies “subjected these service members to appalling housing conditions and cavalier treatment” when the families asked the private landlords to fix problems.

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“Requests for maintenance have been ignored. Repair efforts, when made, have been substandard and slipshod attempts at cosmetic fixes that have not resolved the problems. All the while, Defendants have collected the full amount of the service members’ housing allowances, preventing them from moving off-base.”

The suit adds that Corvias and Meade Communities “have exposed our service members and their families to rampant mold infestation, resulting in serious health issues and damage.”

Corvias — which operates about 3,000 family homes at Fort Meade and 26,000 homes at 13 Army and Air Force bases across the country — oversees the facilities under the Military Housing Privatization Initiative.

About 99 percent of on-base housing has been privatized since 1996 under the initiative — created to address an array of issues with houses in disrepair on bases.

The move allowed private contractors to front reconstruction costs in exchange for 50-year leases from the services, but families have been unsatisfied with how the homes are being kept up by the five main companies that operate 200,000 homes on bases across the nation.

Corvias alone is set to make more than $1 billion in fees over 50-year contracts, Reuters reported earlier this year. The report was part of a series of articles that exposed poor conditions at private military housing at bases across the country and the companies that run them that have little repercussion. 

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The 2018 investigation also set off numerous congressional inquiries. 

In the Fort Meade lawsuit, Corvias was hit with 14 charges that include fraud and gross negligence. 

Covington & Burling, which filed the suit for the families pro bono, lists numerous accounts, including from Air Force Master Sergeant Alexander Nunez, an 18-year veteran who alleged that he, his wife and two young children all suffered from multiple respiratory and other ailments as a result of a mold infestation in their Corvias housing at Fort Meade.  

After exposure to “excessive moisture, mold, and standing sewage water,” and “repeated reports to Corvias” to attempt to remedy the issue, the family was forced to evacuate their home, the suit says.

The family moved into the home in April 2015 but did not learn of the toxic mold and the unsafe living conditions until March 2019, the law firm writes.

Another family, the Bowers, claim they lived in their home for nearly a year with their infant son before being forced to relocate to temporary housing “due to health and safety concerns arising from toxic mold contamination” and because “water from the taps in their townhouse had a grayish brown hue to it.”

But once Navy Petty Officer Second Class Kylie Bowers and her husband returned to the home a month later under the promise the problem had been fixed, they found the townhouse in worse state than before.

Returning home from a funeral, the Bowers’ found their townhouse was “cluttered with remnants of cleaning products and plastic tarp with various cords and paper products littered all over the floor." The property had also flooded as “Corvias had failed to reconnect the washer machine properly,” and was still infected with mold.

Navy Hospital Corpsman Third Class Derek Buitrago, meanwhile, had to take a second job and sold his blood to pay out of pocket for maintenance costs to deal with mold when he and his family lived at Fort Meade for two-and-a-half years.

“When the Buitragos requested that Defendants permit them to move to another house due to the repeated water issues, Corvias told them that this would require a $600 moving fee. The Buitragos did not have $600, so they were trapped in the leaky house,” the suit claims.

The suit seeks damages from Corvias to cover “expenses related to economic harm, medical expenses, and mental anguish,” of the families, in addition to requiring Corvias to pay to independently certify that its homes are livable.

In addition, it would prevent Corvias from collecting service members’ housing allowances for a property that has not been certified.