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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 situation is changing quickly, and so too could your rights. This article was last updated June 17, 2020. 

 

Latest Updates

  1. On May 19, Governor Bullock issued the most recent directive that protects some tenants in Montana from eviction for nonpayment after May 24, 2020. In this directive, the Governor orders that tenants who are vulnerable to Covid-19 and who meet other conditions are protected from eviction. Learn more about these protections for vulnerable people below. Tenants who do not meet these conditions no longer have any protection from eviction under the Governor’s directive.
  2. Governor Bullock has authorized funds for Montana tenants who lack money for rent or security deposits because of Covid-19. Visit the Montana Emergency Housing Program page to learn how to apply. 

 

In this article, we'll answer the following:

  1. What protections from eviction are still in place?
  2. What if I can't work and can't pay my rent?
  3. Can I be evicted during shelter in place?
  4. Does the 'halt' on evictions apply to evictions based on reasons other than non-payment of rent?
  5. What if I was already behind on my rent before the coronavirus/shelter in place situation?
  6. Before Governor Bullock's directive, my landlord already took me to court and won. The judge has already ruled that I'm evicted. But, I'm still living in the rental. How long can I stay?
  7. Can my landlord start the eviction process after May 25, if the reason for eviction is my nonpayment of rent?
  8. What should I do if I am vulnerable to coronavirus and meet the other conditions in Gov. Bullock’s directive and my landlord still wants to evict me for nonpayment?
  9. Can my utilities get shut off if I can’t pay? 
  10. 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?
  11. Does my landlord have to accept a payment arrangement from me?
  12. Do I have to show my landlord proof of my income or budget to show that I can't afford to pay rent?
  13. When the Governor's directive to stop foreclosures and evictions ends, do we know how long will it be that renters and homeowners have to catch up on payments?
  14. Are rent increases permitted during the Covid-19 pandemic?
  15. 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.
  16. 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 protections from eviction are still in place?

There is currently no protection from eviction for you just because you are sick with coronavirus or with any other sickness. But, if the reason the landlord is evicting you is that you're behind on the rent, you may be protected from eviction.

 

There are two protections from eviction that may possibly apply to your situation:

1. The federal CARES Act protects tenants in federally covered housing from eviction for nonpayment of rent through at least July 25, 2020. Landlords with HUD funding, including Housing Choice Voucher or Section 8, and USDA-funded properties, and LIHTC tax credit properties, and landlords whose properties have federally-backed mortgages are not allowed to file new eviction actions for non-payment of rent, at least through July 25, 2020.  These landlords also can’t charge renters any fees or penalties for nonpayment of rent.  For more info on CARES, see the National Housing Law Project's CARES Act Eviction Moratorium Summary.  If you aren't sure if your rental includes federal assistance, you can use the National Low Income Housing Coalition's searchable map and database to see if your home is covered by the CARES Act.

After July 25, 2020, if the landlord wants to start eviction proceedings against a renter who had been covered by the CARES Act, the landlord must give the renter a 30-day notice of eviction.

2. Governor Bullock's directive protects tenants from eviction for nonpayment if they have suffered a significant financial hardship as a result of the outbreak and they remain sheltered at home and are considered vulnerable to coronavirus, which means that they are:

  • Over 65, or
  • Have a serious underlying health condition (including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, or asthma), or 
  • Have an immune system that is compromised, such as by chemotherapy.

If you are a "vulnerable" person, then the Governor's directive will not expire for you until the earliest of these dates: 30 days after you stop sheltering at home, or the end of the Covid-19 emergency.

Whether you are covered by Bullock's directive or the CARES Act, you'll still have to eventually pay rent, or you could be evicted. So, it is a good idea to continue paying your rent as usual, if you are able.  See the next FAQ if you need help paying your rent.

Learn more about a tenant’s rights in the eviction process in Montana

 

2. What if I can't work and can't pay my rent?

It is a good idea to contact your landlord if your income goes down. Communication is key. If possible, try to come up with a plan for how you will pay the rent.

You may have a few options for help with paying rent:

Keep in mind that the U.S. government began sending one-time stimulus checks to eligible individuals in April. Go to the IRS Get My Payment page to check the status of your check. Learn more about the stimulus checks. Consider using your stimulus check to pay your rent. 

If your landlord won't work with you concerning the rent, then the landlord would have to comply with Gov. Bullock's directive and with the CARES Act if the rental is federally assisted before filing any eviction court action against you. 

Montana's eviction laws are the same now as they were before the pandemic. To start the eviction process, the landlord would 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 it, then the landlord would have to file an eviction lawsuit against you, as long as the filing of that lawsuit doesn't conflict with Gov. Bullock's directive or with the federal CARES Act. 

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

 

3. Can I be evicted during shelter in place?

It depends on the reason for the eviction. Gov. Bullock's directive and the federal CARES Act only protect you from evictions based upon nonpayment. There's currently no protection for tenants being evicted for other violations of the rental agreement (such as damaging the property, criminal activity, etc.)

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 put the entire community at higher risk for coronavirus.

 

4. Does the 'halt' on evictions apply to evictions based on reasons other than non-payment of rent?

The halt on evictions only applies to evictions based on non-payment of financial obligations (such as rent, late fees, utilities). If the landlord is evicting you for any other reason, then those evictions may go ahead. 

 

5. What if I was already behind on my rent before the coronavirus/shelter in place situation?

If your landlord hadn't already started the eviction process against you before March 30, then the landlord cannot start the eviction process until after Gov. Bullock's directive expires if you are a member of a vulnerable population and meet the other conditions (see FAQ 1, above), or if your rental is federally assisted or the mortgage on your building is federally backed, the landlord cannot start the eviction process until those after July 25. 

In this situation, it's a good idea to communicate with your landlord, to try to figure out how you can get your rent paid and avoid eviction. You can find free general tips online about negotiating with your landlord.

 

6. Before Governor Bullock's directive, my landlord already took me to court and won. The judge has already ruled that I'm evicted. But, I'm still living in the rental. How long can I stay?

In the judge's ruling or judgment of eviction, the judge likely said by what date you had to move out. If that move-out date was after March 30, then if you are vulnerable to coronavirus and meet the other conditions on the directive (see FAQ 1, above), you are currently protected by the Governor's directive. Gov. Bullock's directive dated March 30, 2020 states that no order or writ of possession to remove a tenant can be enforced until after his directive expires. For tenants who are vulnerable to coronavirus and meet the other conditions, the directive doesn’t expire until the earliest of these dates: 30 days after you stop sheltering at home, or the end of the Covid-19 emergency. 

If you do not meet the conditions in Gov. Bullock’s directive, then the landlord can get a court order or “writ” to remove you from the rental. The landlord could ask the court for a writ (a special order) requiring a sheriff's deputy to forcibly remove you from the property, anytime May 25 or after.

Keep in mind that you may still responsible for paying rent for every day that you reside in the rental, even after the date of the judge's eviction order.

 

7. Can my landlord start the eviction process after May 25, if the reason for eviction is my nonpayment of rent?

It depends. Yes, for many tenants. No, for those who meet the conditions under Gov. Bullock’s directive (see FAQ 1, above). No, for those whose rental is federally covered and subject to the federal CARES Act (see FAQ 1, above). 

 

8. What should I do if I am vulnerable to coronavirus and meet the other conditions in Gov. Bullock’s directive and my landlord still wants to evict me for nonpayment?

Communicate with your landlord to try to resolve the dispute. Consider sending a letter to your landlord using this form or your own words. 

Contact Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA). You can apply online at mtlsa.org or by calling 1-800-666-6899. 

 

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

If you are vulnerable to coronavirus and meet the other conditions of Gov. Bullock’s directive (see FAQ 1, above), then your utilities cannot be shut off. Gov. Bullock’s directive applies to any utility business or political subdivision of Montana that supplies electricity, gas, sewage disposal, water, telephone, or internet services. A utility company also can’t charge any late fees or penalties for any late payments. 

This directive doesn’t cover any utilities operating only on an American Indian reservation. The tribal government has the authority to direct utilities operating on its reservation to stop shut-offs, as well as to direct other actions related to Coronavirus. You may want to contact your tribal council to see if they have issued any orders related to Coronavirus. 

Many Montanans rely on propane for their utilities. It's not clear if the governor's directive applies to propane deliveries. If your propane delivery has been impacted, talk to a lawyer right away

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 something out. Gov. Bullock's directive only suspends shutoffs temporarily. It doesn’t cancel your obligation to pay. You are still responsible to pay for the utilities you use, you just may have a little more time to make those payments. 

Montana’s laws for utilities are largely the same now as they were before Coronavirus. Your landlord is not responsible to pay for utilities that you pay. If the utilities are included in your rent, then your landlord is responsible to pay for those utilities. Learn what you can do if your landlord shuts off your utilities

 

10. 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 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 landlord won't work with you, then you should move out as soon as possible. If you don't move out by the deadline the landlord gives you, then the landlord may call law enforcement and have you 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. 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, at https://courts.mt.gov/selfhelp/resources

If your landlord won't work with you concerning the rent, then the landlord would have to comply with Gov. Bullock's directive and with the CARES Act if the rental is federally assisted before filing any eviction court action against you.

Montana's eviction laws are the same now as they were before the virus outbreak. Learn more about a tenant's rights in the eviction process in Montana.

 

11. 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 the Montana Emergency Housing 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

You can use a free online form letter to ask your landlord to postpone, reduce, or waive your rent. You can find free general tips online about negotiating with your landlord.

 

12. Do I have to show my landlord proof of my income or budget to show that I can't afford to pay rent?

Not in detail. You are not required to provide detailed information about your finances to your landlord. But, the Governor’s directive requires you to “make a basic showing” to your landlord that you meet the conditions set out in the directive. It's a good idea to provide some kind of basic documentation to show your loss of income. Keep in mind that you want to be as cooperative with your landlord as you can, to reach an agreement about how you'll pay the rent. For example, if you have to stay home because your child's daycare closed, you could direct your landlord to the daycare website showing the closure. Or if you're a restaurant worker and your hours were cut or you were laid off, provide a note or email from your employer that confirms that fact. The employer's note doesn't have to say how much you were earning, or provide any detail. 

 

13. When the Governor's directive to stop foreclosures and evictions ends, do we know how long will it be that renters and homeowners have to catch up on payments?

There is no time limit established in the Governor's directive. It's up to the renter or homeowner to work that out with the landlord or mortgage servicer. If your rental is federally assisted, you are protected from eviction for nonpayment through July 25. If your mortgage is federally backed, you may be protected longer by the CARES Act

 

14. Are rent increases permitted during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Gov. Bullock's directive prohibits rent increases for tenants who are vulnerable to coronavirus and who meet the other conditions described in the directive (see FAQ 1, above). Rent increases for other tenants are not limited by the directive. 

 

15. 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 to show your rental virtually, over video, instead of in person. You can ask if could take the video yourself.

 

16. 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 other attorney. 

 


 

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Last Review and Update: May 07, 2020
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