FAQs for Montana Renters Related to Coronavirus (Regular Updates)

Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) LSC Funded
Contents

 

This article answers common questions about Montana renters' rights and the coronavirus. Please know that the situation is changing quickly, and so too could your rights. This article was last updated September 9, 2021. 

 

Latest Updates:

  1. 8/26/21: The CDC’s halt order on evictions is no longer in effect, because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. 
  2. The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance program is available for Montanans who have lost household income as a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are at risk of housing instability. 

 

In this article, we'll answer the following:

  1. What if I can't pay my rent?
  2. Can I be evicted if I have COVID-19 or am at high risk of COVID-19?
  3. Can my utilities get shut off if I can’t pay? 
  4. What if my housing is part of my employment and my job ends because of coronavirus? Can my employer/landlord kick me out of the housing even if I have nowhere to go?
  5. Does my landlord have to accept a payment arrangement from me?
  6. Now that the CDC halt order has ended, how long do I have to catch up on payments?
  7. Are rent increases allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  8. My landlord wants to show my rental to future buyers or tenants. May I refuse to let them in? I'm concerned because of the virus.
  9. I signed a lease that starts in the near future but lost my job because of COVID-19. Now I can't pay the lease and don't want to move in, can I terminate my lease legally?

 

 1. What if I can't pay my rent?

It is a good idea to contact your landlord if you can’t pay your rent. Communication is key. If possible, try to come up with a plan for how you will pay the rent.

You have a few options for help with paying rent:

If your landlord won't work with you on getting the rent paid, then the landlord must follow all laws that apply to you if they want to evict you. 

Montana’s eviction laws provide that if your landlord wants to evict you, the landlord would first have to give you a written notice of termination. If you get a written notice, it is a good idea to contact your landlord to try to resolve the dispute. If you can't resolve the dispute, then the landlord would have to file an eviction lawsuit against you.

Learn more about a tenant's rights in the eviction process in Montana. Learn more about how to file a written answer to an eviction lawsuit.

 

2. Can I be evicted if I have COVID-19 or am at high risk of COVID-19?

Yes. There's currently nothing that protects you from eviction just because you have COVID-19 or if you’re at high risk. Learn more about a tenant's rights in the eviction process in Montana.

Talk to your landlord to try to reach an agreement so that the landlord doesn’t seek to evict you.

Landlords are encouraged by the federal government and by Montana government to try and keep tenants housed. Displacement of individuals and families through eviction increases the risk of homelessness and overcrowding, which puts the entire community at higher risk for coronavirus. If your landlord is trying to evict you, talk to a lawyer right away.

 

3. Can my utilities get shut off if I can’t pay? 

Maybe.

Apply with Montana’s Rental Assistance Program if you need help paying your utilities. 

If you are behind on utilities that you (not the landlord) are responsible for paying, it is a good idea to talk to the utility provider to try to work out a payment plan. You can ask if they have any programs for reduced rates for people with low-income or impacted by coronavirus.

Your landlord is not responsible for paying for utilities that are in your name. If the utilities are included as part of the monthly rent you pay to the landlord, then your landlord is responsible for paying for those utilities. Learn what you can do if your landlord shuts off your utilities.

 

4. What if my housing is part of my employment and my job ends because of coronavirus? Can my employer/landlord kick me out of the housing even if I have nowhere to go?

It depends.

If your right to occupy the rental is conditioned on your employment, and you don't have a rental agreement with the landlord unrelated to your job, then the employer/landlord has the right to take back the housing after your job ends. The usual Montana landlord-tenant laws don't apply to you when your housing is part of your job, and you're not entitled to a 30-day notice to move. Montana law doesn't say how many days the employer has to give you to move after your job ends. Your best option is talk to the employer to try and work something out. If the employer won't work with you, then you should move out as soon as possible. If you don't move out by the deadline the employer gives you, then the employer may call law enforcement and ask that you be removed as a trespasser.

If you have a separate rental agreement with the landlord unrelated to your job, then the landlord must follow Montana law concerning the eviction. It is a good idea to contact your landlord to try to work something out. If you need help with rent, you can apply to Montana’s Rental Assistance Program. You can try to get help from relatives or nonprofit agencies. You can ask to repay your landlord the past due rent on a monthly payment plan after you go back to work. To find out which agencies might be able to help with your rent, call 2-1-1 or see the County Resource Guide for your county.

Need more information about eviction? Learn more about a tenant's rights in the eviction process in Montana.

 

5. Does my landlord have to accept a payment arrangement from me?

No. Landlords are encouraged by the federal government to be flexible with payment arrangements. But, you cannot force a landlord to accept whatever arrangement you propose. If the landlord insists on higher payments from you, or for a quicker time frame for payments, it's a good idea to try your best to meet those requirements. If you don't get current on your rent, the landlord eventually will be able to file an eviction lawsuit against you for nonpayment. 

You can apply for help from Montana’s Rental Assistance Program. If you’re having trouble with the application, there may be a person (navigator) in your local area who can help you with the application. More information on the local navigators is provided at Rental Assistance Program.

You can try to get help from relatives or nonprofit agencies. You can ask to repay your landlord the past due rent on a monthly payment plan after you go back to work. To find out which agencies might be able to help with your rent, call 2-1-1 or see the County Resource Guide for your county. 

 

6. Now that the CDC halt order has ended, how long do I have to catch up on payments?

The law doesn’t give you an extended period of time to get all the rent paid to the landlord. If you don’t pay the rent that’s due, the landlord could start the eviction process against you.

It's up to you to communicate with the landlord to try to reach an agreement on a timeline for your payments. 

If you need help with rent, you can apply to Montana’s Rental Assistance Program. You can also try to get help from relatives or nonprofit agencies. You can ask to repay your landlord the past due rent on a monthly payment plan after you go back to work. To find out which agencies might be able to help with your rent, call 2-1-1 or see the County Resource Guide for your county.

Need more information about the eviction process? Learn more about a tenant's rights in the eviction process in Montana.

 

7. Are rent increases allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. There is no Montana law that prohibits rent increases. If you have a written lease that hasn’t expired yet, read your lease to see if it addresses rent increases. Generally, the landlord cannot increase your rent during the term of your written lease. Generally, your landlord must give you 30 days’ notice in advance of any increase in rent. But Montana law doesn’t put any limit on the amount of the increase.

Learn more about your rights related to rent increases.

 

8. My landlord wants to show my rental to future buyers or tenants. May I refuse to let them in? I'm concerned because of the virus.

Montana law says that you cannot unreasonably withhold consent, if your landlord has given you 24 hours' advance notice of entry. But, it's possible that the virus may give you reasonable grounds for withholding consent. Talk to your landlord to try to work something out, as soon as you get landlord's notice of entry. You can see if the landlord will agree to require everyone to wear masks and gloves. You can ask the landlord to show your rental virtually, over video, instead of in person. You can ask if you could take the video yourself.

 

9. I signed a lease that starts in the near future but lost my job because of COVID-19. Now I can't pay the lease and don't want to move in, can I terminate my lease legally?

Yes. The change in circumstances may give you valid grounds to rescind the contract (your lease is a contract). Your best option is to contact the landlord right away to let the landlord know about the change. The landlord has the legal obligation to try to find a new tenant for your rental as soon as you notify the landlord that you're cancelling. The sooner you notify the landlord, the better. Hopefully the landlord will agree that you can terminate the lease, at no cost to you. There is a legal doctrine called "mistake of fact" which may allow you to cancel the contract. When you signed the lease, you were relying on your job starting in the near future. But now that job no longer exists, which isn't your fault. You may be able to cancel the contract for that reason. If the landlord won't let you cancel the lease and charges you the money due under the lease, contact MLSA or another attorney.

 


 

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Last Review and Update: Sep 15, 2021
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