Marine Families Battle Mice, Mold, and Powerful Private Landlords

From Reuters

When Matt Limon enlisted in the Marines, he and wife Sharon were prepared to make sacrifices for their country: faraway deployments, long absences and frequent moves for a family with two young children.

Those hardships didn’t drive them from the military. The mice in their duplex did.

Not just one or two: Dozens invaded their home on the Marine base here, leaving trails of feces and urine across the carpeting and chewing through containers in the pantry. Sharon reported the infestation in May 2017 to Lincoln Military Housing, a private company that controls most of the 7,900 housing units on base at Camp Pendleton. Lincoln sent a pest control worker to lay traps. The problem worsened.

“The two-year-old, he doesn’t say very many words, but ‘mouse poop’ is one of them,” Sharon said. “I would pick him up out of bed in the morning and he’d have mouse poop stuck to his leg.”

In August, Lincoln moved the family into temporary housing while more traps were laid. The mice retreated. Then water suddenly rained from a smoke detector. And the mice returned.

The Limons moved off base last November, taking out a $4,000 loan to do so. Then Lincoln hit them with a $1,084 bill to replace the rodent-contaminated carpet.

Lincoln blamed the infestation on the family’s housekeeping, she said. It pointed to dishes in the sink, and photographed a carpet soiled by the family’s new puppy. Sharon had talked to the previous tenants, however, and they too had reported a mouse invasion. They showed the Limons a rodent hole still in the home. And they provided texts from neighbors discussing their own infestations.

Philip Rizzo, Lincoln’s vice president of operations, told Reuters the Texas-based company worked hard to combat the vermin, and billed the family because the carpet had other stains. Even so, he said, Lincoln offered in June to drop the charge – if the couple signed a non-disclosure agreement. “Mrs. Limon was still going on Facebook” to complain, he said. “And we said, ‘That has to stop.’ ” The couple refused to sign.

Disheartened, Corporal Limon, who had served in the Middle East, left the Marines when his tour of duty ended this August. The Limons still owe Lincoln.

“He was supposed to retire out of the Marine Corps,” his wife wrote to Reuters on his last day. “None of this was ever part of the plan.”

The Limons had been defeated by two forces that can trap military families in substandard homes across the United States: powerful private landlords and inadequate tenant rights.

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