WASHINGTON D.C. — It’s a common practice used by private housing companies running homes on military bases around the country: requiring non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in order for a military family to accept a settlement offer, after the family raises concerns about housing problems.
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We brought our findings about the use of these NDAs to the members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, as they have the power to address defense matters.
This comes after members of Congress have been investigating widespread reported housing problems with mold and other unsafe living conditions at multiple bases run by different housing companies around the country.
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We showed them an NDA we obtained from one housing company that runs homes on an Army base, which says the parties shall not discuss the “alleged claims or make negative statements” about “military housing in general.”
The NDA prohibits the tenants from making such statements “to the public (including but not limited to current, future, or former residents,” as well as on social media and to the press.
“It is outrageous for these companies to demand non-disclosure agreements,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. “They are providing unhealthy, substandard housing and they want to keep the military families that live in that housing from being able to talk about it. That is wrong. It’s something we need to address in the Armed Services Committee and I’m ready.”
“For there to be non-disclosure agreements is absolutely unacceptable,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. “It’s intolerable and I will use every ounce of my own power on the Armed Services Committee to bring them to light and to stop them.”
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That outrage was echoed by members of both parties on the panel.
“I don’t think it’s right,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. “If you’re the next family coming in, wouldn’t you want to know what the problems are and if they’ve gotten resolved?”
That’s why the Bragg family says it refused to sign an NDA for a settlement agreement last month.
We first told you about the Braggs in September when they were displaced because of mold, sewage, and even dead animals in the walls at their home on Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
“It’s hush money,” said Breanna Bragg about rejecting the settlement offer, which was contingent upon signing an NDA.
These housing companies have lengthy contracts with the military, so our Washington news bureau asked the military if it knew about the use of the NDAs and if it supported that practice.
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“Yes, the Department of Defense is aware that some settlement agreements between Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) projects and military members and their family members who reside in MHPI housing (i.e., Tenants) may include NDAs,” said Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman, spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “The Department has no issue with MHPI projects requiring NDAs as part of settlement agreements with Tenants as long as the NDA follows the requirements in 10 USC 2890(f). ... As Congress recognized, NDAs are commonly used as part of settlement agreements between private sector landlords and their tenants, hence the continued allowance for NDAs as part of MHPI settlement agreements as provided by Section 3024 of the FY20 NDAA, as amended by Section 2811(b)(3) of the FY21 NDAA, now codified in 10 USC 2890(f). The Department supports the NDA requirements established in 10 USC 2890(f).”
The provisions allowing the use of NDAs in the settlement process are outlined in the yearly defense budget package, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Warren said she will push to change the language of the law to prohibit the use of these NDAs during the negotiations next year for the NDAA.
Warren pointed out that this year’s NDAA is almost a done deal, so it’s an issue the Committee will need to address when the new session of Congress begins next year.
Blumenthal said he wants to see if the military will make the fix on its own first.
“I will push to change the law if necessary but tolerating these agreements is an administrative matter and should be stopped by the Department of Defense,” said Blumenthal. “The Department of Defense may have the power on its own without changes in the current law to act administratively. That’s what I want to ask the Department of Defense.”
If the military doesn’t make the change itself to stop the NDAs, the lawmakers we spoke with say they will.
“If they don’t do it, then we ought to do something with the next year’s NDAA,” said Scott.
Scott encouraged military families to speak up and contact their representatives if they do experience housing problems on base.
“You need to be vocal,” said Scott. “I’ll do everything I can and I know there’re other people that want to be helpful. … Get us the information and we’ll be responsive.”
Other lawmakers said they agree they want the use of these NDAs to be included in next year’s discussion about the provisions in the NDAA.
A joint statement from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said: “As we look ahead, including in the FY24 NDAA process, we will be closely examining the use of NDAs related to military housing and analyzing what we can do to protect military families as they navigate the rights and protections that Congress has laid out for them.”
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