Brown joins protest against military housing NDAs

A group of senators are protesting what they say is the continued practice of requiring military families to sign non-disclosure agreements to have problems with military housing resolved.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has joined other senators in questioning the practice of requiring some military families to sign non-disclosure agreements or “NDAs” with private housing companies in order to get compensated for what they call “poor housing conditions.”

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“The use of NDAs leaves tenants who were provided with unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions forced to choose between receiving compensation for those atrocious conditions and forever remaining silent about their experiences or telling their story and having to pay out of their own pockets for safe housing conditions,” said the recent letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, signed by Brown. “Furthermore, it allows the private housing companies to evade responsibility for their failures. These are unacceptable outcomes.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mazie Hirono, D-Ha. and Tim Kaine, D-Va., also signed the letter to Austin.

NDAs legally require that certain information be kept confidential or secret.

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Congress has opposed requirements for military families to sign NDAs to live in housing on military installations. The fiscal year 2020 defense budget included a provision requiring companies to notify and get approval from the Department of Defense when a landlord uses an NDA, according to a statement from Brown’s office.

And senators said the law also makes clear that current or prospective tenants cannot be required to sign NDAs “in connection with entering into, continuing, or terminating a lease for the housing unit,” and that, “any such agreement against the interests of the tenant is invalid.”

“These organizations wave a non-disclosure agreement in front of them (military housing occupants) and say, ‘If you sign this agreement, there may be a bonus or payment you’ll be entitled to if you don’t bring up what may be inadequate housing,’” North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, said in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2019.

Senators say the practice continues. Sen. Warren said her office said they obtained copies of NDAs that Balfour Beatty Communities and Liberty Military Housing forced on military families.

One NDA was required by Balfour Beatty Communities (BBC), LLC, a company that pleaded guilty and agreed to pay more than $65 million in fines for defrauding the military.

“Instead of promptly repairing housing for U.S. service members as required, BBC lied about the repairs to pocket millions of dollars in performance bonuses,” the Department of Justice said in December 2021.

The senators are asking Austin to respond to their questions by Jan. 17.

The letter can be found here.

Questions about the senators’ letter were sent to a spokeswoman for the Department of the Air Force.

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