December 20, 2022

Warren, Hirono, Blumenthal, Brown, Kaine Urge DoD to Protect Military Families’ Rights and End Use of “Nefarious” Non-Disclosure Agreements by Private Military Housing Contractors

“The use of these NDAs is an outrageous abuse of military families’ rights”

“These nefarious practices are not consistent with the law, prevent housing providers from being held fully accountable for their failures, and put military families at risk – and the Department of Defense must put an end to their use.”

Text of Letter (pdf)

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio.) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressing concern over reports that military families are being forced to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with privatized military housing companies in order to receive compensation for poor housing conditions. In the letter, the lawmakers urge the Department of Defense (DoD) to put an end to these practices. 

“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. Furthermore, it allows the private housing companies to evade responsibility for their failures. These are unacceptable outcomes,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Congress has a clear record of opposing any requirements for military families to sign NDAs for on base housing. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision requiring companies to notify and receive approval from DoD—when a landlord uses a non-disclosure agreement. 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.”

Despite these reforms, it appears the use of NDAs has not stopped. Reports from advocates for safer military housing revealed that military families are still being forced to sign NDAs in order to receive compensation for on-base rental housing that is unsafe or unhealthy, and Senator Warren’s office obtained copies of NDAs that Balfour Beatty Communities and Liberty Military Housing forced on military families.

One NDA was required by Balfour Beatty Communities, LLC (BBC), a company that pleaded guilty and agreed to pay over $65 million in fines and restitution for defrauding the military. BBC attempted to force a family to sign this NDA in order to receive compensation for property damaged by mold. The family refused to do so because they did not want to be silenced and prevented from making any future claims. In addition to forcing families into silence, the NDA impinges on the ability of DoD and the Department of Justice to monitor the company’s compliance with its settlement agreement. Another public report from November 2022 indicated that the housing company Michaels Organization has also been requiring families to sign NDAs in order to receive settlements for unsafe housing conditions at Fort Belvoir. One family refused to accept the “hush money” and sign the NDA, which would have required them not to discuss the claims or make negative statements about their housing in public. 

“The use of these NDAs is an outrageous abuse of military families’ rights by private housing companies that have failed to do their job despite receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer funds. Tenants should have the right to speak freely about their experiences and should not feel afraid to report any wrongdoing by their housing provider.  Their right ‘to report inadequate housing standards or deficits in habitability of the housing unit’ is part of the tenant bill of rights and DoD must not allow the use of NDAs to undermine these rights. Private housing providers must not be allowed to silence military families, who make countless sacrifices for our country, to gain a profit or avoid accountability for forcing these families to live in unsafe or unsanitary housing,” the lawmakers concluded

The Senators are asking DoD to answer a set of questions by January 17.