A new lawsuit from three Marine Corps families claims the privatized landlords at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, let military family housing fall into squalor to maximize profits.
The lawsuit was filed on Friday in the United States District Court Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of three Marine Corps families against Atlantic Marine Corps Communities Property Management LLC, or AMCC, and its parents companies, Lend Lease U.S. Public Partnerships LLC and Winn Management Group LLC.
The four law firms have teamed up to represent that three Marine Corps families involved and include the Rhine Law Firm out of Wilmington, North Carolina, the Wise Law Firm from Fairfax, Virginia, Morgan and Morgan in Tampa, Florida, and Wallace and Graham from Salisbury, North Carolina.
The families claim the management company ignored the existence of mold, insect infestations, faulty plumbing and water intrusion and continued to rent out the military properties in at a “slumlord level” to preserve its profit margin and satisfy investors, according to court documents.
“Military families deserve security and dignity in their homes,” Joel Rhine, one of the lawyers on the case, said in a press release.
There service members “are heroes protecting us and placing themselves in harm’s way,” he added.
The Marine Corps is aware of the lawsuit but declined to provide comment on it because it is not named in the case, Nat Fahy, a spokesman for Marine Corps Installations East, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
“Nevertheless, the Marine Corps is committed to ensuring our families have safe and adequate housing,” he said in the Monday email.
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“We thoroughly investigate any life, health, or safety concerns raised by our residents, and work through our housing partners to ensure any underlying issues are properly addressed,” Fahy added.
Mold in the electrical sockets
One of the families claims their house had so much water that damage gaps started to appear between the wall and the house’s electric system started to fail, according to court documents.
First Sgt. Scott Johnson and his wife, Lindsey, moved into their home at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in October 2015, according to the lawsuit.
Almost immediately the family noticed water would pool near the base of the house, eventually making its way inside, corroding light fixtures and even causing one of the homes sprinklers to sag out of the ceiling, the lawsuit claims.
“Where the water intrusion occurred at some of the windowsills and electrical outlet areas, mold later followed,” the lawsuit reads.
During the Johnson’s time in the home the family found mold in the bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, around the windowsills and coming out of electrical sockets, the document said.
In the fall of 2018 the privatized landlords started extensive repairs on the home that were interrupted by Hurricane Florence, according to the lawsuit.
When the family eventually returned to the house they found that management had inexplicably changed the locks on the house, the lawsuit reads. Once they were eventually able to get back into their home they found that the repairs were incomplete and the water damage and mold was as a big of a problem as it was before the repairs were started, according to the lawsuit.
During their time in the home Lindsey Johnson lost 51 pounds and “had such severe respiratory issues that she even had trouble walking up a flight of stairs,” the lawsuit said.
For Staff Sgt. Garret Burn and his wife, Kalie, worried about the mold in their house, and fed up with their management’s lack of action they paid to have a contractor inspect their house for mold, according to the lawsuit.
The inspector found mold throughout the house, but noted that they had a “moisture problem, not a mold problem.”
After the family had their own inspection completed they were moved by the landlords into a “hospitality suite,” so that repairs could be made on their home, according to the lawsuit.
The family still lives in the hospitality suite, which is also covered in mold and water damage and has a cockroach infestation, according to the lawsuit.
The final family involved in the suit, Cpl. William Lewis and his wife, Lakin,, had to a fight off a roach infestation while Lakin was pregnant with their first child, the lawsuit claims.
After the birth of the child the air conditioning in the house stopped working and the instead of fixing the problem, the management company blamed the problem on the family, according to the court documents.
A spokesperson from AMCC, the company that manages the apartments, said the company is reviewing the complaint.
“As is true in any instance, we have strict protocols in place to ensure any concerns are assessed and remediated appropriately and expeditiously,” the spokesperson said in an email.
“Due to the pendency of this matter, we are unable to provide any further details or comment at this time,” the spokesperson added.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of cases brought against privatized landlords by military families at several military installations around the country.
Lawyers representing the families said that while they are trying to get restitution for their clients, their ultimate goal is fix the system that allows these companies to skimp on maintenance for profit.
“There is an ongoing legislative battle regarding the future of privatized military housing and the extent to which the for-profit should be held accountable,” John Hughes, of Wallace and Grant, said in a Monday phone interview.
In February Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed the tenant’s bill of rights, granting military families a number rights to help ensure they live in appropriately maintained housing.
However, some key issues ― including the access to a home’s maintenance history, a process for dispute resolution, and the ability to withhold rent until disputes are resolved ― were not included.
“Normally if you live in an apartment and it’s a slumlord condition you can hold back your rent. But right now, the service member cannot do that it goes automatically to the private company,” Hughes said.
Representatives of Lend Lease U.S. Public Partnerships LLC and Winn Management Group LLC have not immediately responded to requests for comment from Marine Corps Times.
“We are a military base community, and that’s one of the things that our whole southeastern North Carolina prides itself on,” Rhine said in a Monday phone call.
“Part of our fabric is being torn apart because you know we’re hearing all these horrific situations,” he added.