By Scott Prater | Mountaineer staff
FORT CARSON, Colo. — The DOD will begin rolling out a universal housing lease for on-post residents this summer. That’s a significant change for housing residents, who have endured sometimes drastic differences in leasing rules, regulations and policies across DOD installations.
The new lease will allow residents to be assured of standardized leasing rules wherever they reside on any DOD installation. Stephanie Howell, chief, Legal Assistance Office at Fort Carson, said one of the most important aspects of the new lease is that it includes a tenant’s bill of rights.
“The tenant’s bill of rights stipulates that tenants have a right to legal assistance during the dispute resolution process with privatized-housing providers,” she said.
Explaining legal terms to Soldiers is one of the many actions staff members at Fort Carson’s Legal Assistance Office perform on a regular basis.
“Fort Carson Army leaders want Soldiers to know that they don’t have to fight their legal battles themselves,” Howell said. “There is assistance out there. We are, basically, free lawyers, and we can help Soldiers and their Family members with their legal matters.”
Navigating the legal framework of tenant and landlord law can be complex and cumbersome, especially with off-post transactions. Laws also differ from state to state, which makes the process even more perplexing for people who simply want to buy a car or find a suitable apartment, for example.
Howell said that’s one reason it’s important for Soldiers to familiarize themselves with the legal assistance office at the Mountain Post and understand how team members there can help.
“One of our goals is preventative law,” she said. “Soldiers will frequently come to us after they’ve already signed a lease or a purchase contract for a big-ticket item, and they’re unsatisfied with that legal arrangement. But, it’s often difficult to walk those types of transactions back. So, we prefer that people come to us before they decide to sign a contract or make other types of important decisions. In effect, we can prevent issues from occurring in the first place.”
Consumer protection is just way that legal assistance team members can help Soldiers and Family members. Staff members often handle civil issues, estate planning, powers of attorney, wills (especially prior to heavy deployment times) and immigration and naturalization matters.
“Our immigration and naturalization focus is somewhat unique to Fort Carson because we have a lawyer who specializes in this type of law,” Howell said.
The legal assistance team typically offers walk-in hours on Wednesday mornings but asks that Soldiers and Family members contact the legal office to set up appointments.
“We provide confidential legal advice to Soldiers and retirees and their Family members,” Howell said. “We don’t talk to anyone’s chain of command. I cannot acknowledge that a client has visited this office without that client’s permission. And, the list of what we advise on is a long one.”
It’s important to note that the legal assistance team is a segment of the Staff Judge Advocate Office but is not part of the Army’s Trial Defense Service. The Trial Defense Service is the Army’s defense attorney, that department deals with clients who may have received an Article 15, are being chaptered out of the Army or being court-martialed.
“We are also not part of brigade legal,” Howell said. “Every brigade has a legal office that is embedded with that unit, but they are the commander’s attorneys. Really, at Fort Carson legal assistance, our entire job is to help people. That’s how we are contributing to the Army’s mission.”
To learn more or to contact the Fort Carson Legal Assistance Office, call 719-526-5572 or 719-526-5573.