Step One: Read the court paperwork and figure out your deadline to respond.
When a landlord sues you, you will be served with a Summons and a Complaint.
The Summons will usually be the page on top. The Summons will say:
- Which Court the lawsuit is filed in,
- How many days you have to file a written Answer to the Complaint, and
- You must pay a fee to the Court to file a written Answer.
The number of days you have to file an Answer starts the day after you were served. You have ten business days to file your Answer with the court. When counting the ten days you do not count Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays.
If you cannot afford the fee to file a written Answer, you can file with the Court a Statement of Inability to Pay. This form requires you to say what your monthly income and expenses are, and asks the judge to let you file the Answer without paying the fee because your income is so low. You can ask the Clerk of Court for the form or download the Statement of Inability to Pay at the bottom of this article and file it with the Clerk of Court.
The Complaint is usually stapled behind the Summons. The Complaint will say:
- Why the landlord is suing you, and
- What the landlord is asking the court to do.
Read the Summons. Read the Complaint.
Step Two: Download, print, and fill out the free court forms from this website to file an answer to the lawsuit.
When you fill out the Answer form, you want to write clearly:
- Your name, address, and phone number in the top left corner
- What facts in the landlord’s complaint you think are wrong
- Why you disagree with what the landlord is asking for
- Sign the written Answer, and include a certificate of service.
The court will contact you at the address and/or phone number you put in the Answer. If your contact information isn’t correct or the clerk can’t read it, then you won’t get the court’s notices about when to come to court. If you don’t show up at court for your hearing or trial, you’ll likely be evicted.
So, put down reliable contact information in the top left corner of your Answer, especially if you plan on moving out. You must put your own name. If you use someone else’s address or phone number, make sure they agree to tell you right away if they hear from the court about your case.
The forms on this website have instructions on filling out the rest of the forms. You can find a link to the forms at the end of this article. That link will include information about Coronavirus.
Step Three: File the forms with the Clerk of Court and send a copy to your landlord.
You must file your Answer with the Clerk of Court where the landlord filed the Summons and Complaint. Remember, you can find the court name on the Summons and on the Complaint. If you don’t know the address of the court, you can use the court locator.
After you file with the Clerk of Court, you must send a copy of your Answer to the person who filed the Complaint – that person could be your landlord, or it could be an attorney for your landlord. The person’s name and address will usually be in the top left corner of the Complaint. The Answer form at the bottom of this page has more information on how to send a copy of your Answer to the landlord.
Step Four: Attend all your court hearings and mediations.
The court will tell you by mail when it schedules a hearing or mediation. Not every court will schedule a mediation. You must show up to every court hearing and mediation that the court schedules. If you don’t show up, you could be evicted.
If you cannot make it to a hearing or mediation you must:
- Have a very good reason,
- Explain to the court why you can’t make it before it happens, and
- Ask the court to reschedule the hearing or mediation.
Some courts will let you reschedule by calling the Clerk of Court. If the Clerk of Court tells you that you must file a written request, you may use a Motion packet. In the Motion, you must state your reason and ask the court to reschedule. You can find a blank Motion packet on this website.
Step Five: Seek legal help if you have any questions.
Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free legal help to low-income Montanans. The only way to find out if MLSA can help you is for you to apply. It may take MLSA more than a week to complete your application, so you might need to file a written Answer before you get a chance to talk to a lawyer. Even if you can’t talk to a lawyer before you file an Answer, a lawyer may still help you with advice on your hearing and/or mediation. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help from MLSA.
If you are eligible for Montana Legal Services Association, you may be able use Ask Karla to ask a volunteer attorney a civil legal question by email.
The State Bar Lawyer Referral Service may give you contact information for attorneys who provide, for a fee, the type of assistance you are seeking. You can contact the State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (406) 449-6577 or montanabar.org.