Army family awarded more than $91,000 in Texas military housing lawsuit
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A federal jury on Friday found a military housing landlord did not properly maintain and repair a home at Joint Base San Antonio rented by an Army officer and ordered the company pay more than $91,000 to the soldier.
Lt. Col. Shane Vinales and his wife Becky faced off in court against their former landlord, Hunt Military Communities, alleging the company failed to address mold and structural issues in the house that they moved into more than five years ago at Randolph Air Force Base, which is part of the joint base in Texas. The three-week trial did not consider possible health conditions that the couple and their two children could have developed from exposure to mold. The original complaint filed in 2019 did ask the court to consider personal injury damages.
Instead, the jury of six women and one man was asked to determine whether Hunt breached its contract to repair the problems in the home that the Vinales family reported to them, such as a recurring water leak, broken fixtures and appliances, an ant infestation and replacing smelly carpet.
The Vinales family filed the lawsuit against Hunt along with eight other families, yet the court decided to hear each family’s case separately. The Vinales’s case was the first to go before Judge Richard Farrer in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas with jury selection beginning on June 5.
The trial was considered an informal bellwether for the pending litigation from other families, including one family who lived in Hunt housing at Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio, Texas.
“I feel that justice has been made. I feel like we’re paving the road moving forward for other military families who have suffered,” Becky Vinales said sitting with her children, Landon, 11, and Savannah, 9, after hearing the verdict. The two children sat in the courtroom for the trial, during which both their parents testified.
“It’s been a lot to deal with the military family housing company and to know that how they treat us, they treat others worse,” she said.
Hunt Military Communities said in a statement that it acknowledges the verdict and is committed to providing quality housing to military families.
“We respect the judicial process and will be reviewing our legal options, including the possibility of appeal, to seek what we believe is a just and fair resolution. We firmly believe the outcome does not reflect the facts or evidence of the case,” the company said.
In the nearly four years that it has taken for the lawsuit to reach a conclusion, Becky Vinales said she never wavered in her decision to sue.
“They put us through misery, and I wanted my day to speak,” she said. “It was a long road but rewarding to stick with it. It feels good to get my story heard.”
Lawyers for the Vinales family recommended in closing arguments that the jury award damages of $96,813. That included $40,656 to return all rent paid for the home and a minimum of $56,157 to replace the family’s household goods and items that were ruined by mold. The latter also included $39,000 in clothing inventory for LuLaRoe, a clothing brand that Becky Vinales sold from her home.
However, the jury decided Hunt had made attempts to remedy the situation during the last four months of the Vinales family’s time in the house and did not award damages for the rent paid in those months. The jury awarded $91,654 to the family.
Hunt, which operates roughly 52,000 homes spread across more than 40 Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps installations, does business locally in San Antonio as Randolph Family Housing.
The company went beyond the lease agreement to compensate the Vinales family, Walter Boone, an attorney for Hunt said in closing arguments. Hunt paid them $36,653 in a gift card, fees to relocate to a camping site in their travel trailer, meal allowances, cleaning and testing damaged goods for mold and a one-month rent credit.
“It doesn’t make sense what’s being said and the evidence that’s presented,” Boone told the jury.
The company’s attorneys argued if the Vinales family was so unhappy in the house, they were free to leave. The couple first leased the house in October 2017, and the agreement turned into a month-to-month contract one year later that only required a 30-day notice to vacate.
“It can’t be that you are concerned about your home, but you stay there when you didn’t have to. It can’t be because it’s not true,” Boone said.
The family also received 26 follow-up emails after work orders were completed on their home and never responded with a concern about the work done, he said.
Ryan Reed, an attorney for the Vinales family, said Becky Vinales wrote there was mold in their carpet on the form that she filled out the day that they moved into the house. He also presented evidence that showed a leak in the primary bedroom had been a problem before the Vinales family moved into the home and it persisted during their time living there.
Published on June 23, 2023 by Stripes