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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 the situation is changing quickly, and so too could your rights. This article was last updated January 29, 2021. 

 

Latest Updates

  1. On January 20, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) extended its order temporarily halting residential evictions until at least March 31, 2021. Read the full CDC press release
  2. The Governor’s Directive protects some tenants in Montana from eviction for nonpayment. In this directive, the Governor orders that tenants who are vulnerable to COVID-19 and who meet other conditions are protected from eviction. Gov. Gianforte has kept this Directive in effect. Learn more about this directive and the form to send your landlord if you qualify
  3. The federal government has authorized funds for Montana tenants who lack money for rent or security deposits because of COVID-19. Visit the Montana Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP) page to learn how to apply. (Note: EHAP stopped taking applications in November 2020, but may resume in February 2021.)

 

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 while I am sheltering in place?
  4. Does the 'halt' on evictions apply to evictions based on reasons other than non-payment of rent? 
  5. What should I do if I am vulnerable to coronavirus and meet the other conditions in the Governor’s directive and my landlord still wants to evict me for nonpayment?
  6. Can my utilities get shut off if I can’t pay? 
  7. 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?
  8. Does my landlord have to accept a payment arrangement from me?
  9. Do I have to show my landlord proof of my income or budget to show that I can't afford to pay rent?
  10. After these temporary orders protecting renters expire, do we know how long will it be that renters and homeowners have to catch up on payments?
  11. Are rent increases allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  12. 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.
  13. 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 are 3 sources of protection for renters in Montana. Each of them limits evictions of renters for non-payment of rent:

  1. The CDC order that halts some evictions through March 31, 2021, and 
  2. Governor's Directive that halts some evictions, fees, rent increases, and utility shutoffs until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic for renters who are vulnerable to coronavirus, and 
  3. The federal CARES Act requirement that requires a landlord of a “federally covered” rental to provide a 30-day advance notice of eviction for nonpayment of rent, instead of the usual 3-day or 7-day eviction notice required under Montana law.

It’s possible that you may qualify for all three protections. If so, you’ll need to notify your landlord in writing that you are protected. We have three letters for each protection:

Important: Even if you qualify for protection from eviction, you’ll still have to eventually pay rent. These protections do not cancel your obligation to pay the rent. 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:

  • Montana Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP). (Note: EHAP stopped taking applications in November 2020, but may resume in February 2021.)
  • Dial 2-1-1 or visit Montana211.org for local resources
  • You can try to get help from relatives 
  • You can ask to repay your landlord the past due rent on a monthly payment plan after you go back to work. 

If your landlord won't work with you on rent, then they must follow all laws that apply to you if they want to evict you. You may qualify for protection under:

  • Governor’s directive for people who are vulnerable to coronavirus; and/or
  • CDC order halting most evictions for nonpayment of rent through March 31, 2021; and/or
  • The CARES Act if your rental building is federally assisted.

Check out our article on coronavirus protections still in place to decide if you qualify for these protections and take steps to protect yourself from eviction.

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 the CDC order, Governor's directive, or with the federal CARES Act. If a landlord’s eviction lawsuit conflicts with the CDC order, Governor’s directive, or with the CARES Act, you’ll want to explain why that is so in your written answer you must file with the court within 10 business days after being served with eviction court papers. You can put that information in the “Other” section of the forms.

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.

 

3. Can I be evicted while I am sheltering in place?

Maybe. It depends on the reason for the eviction. The CDC order, Governor's directive and the federal CARES Act apply to 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.) You must follow all terms of your lease and the law. And in many cases, the landlord must give you the opportunity to fix the problem before filing a court eviction action. Learn more about a tenant's rights in the eviction process in Montana.

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. If your landlord is trying to evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, talk to a lawyer right away.

 

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

The halt on evictions 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 violation of the lease, then those evictions may be allowed to proceed.

Important: If your landlord is terminating your lease for no reason (such as at the end of your lease, or on 30 days’ notice if you’re a month to month tenant), the CDC order doesn’t specifically say whether or not you’re protected from eviction. If you end up in court, it will be up to the judge to decide whether the CDC order halts evictions for no reason. If you want to claim protection under the CDC order, you will still need to provide the Declaration to your landlord, and to the court. But, if the language in the form Declaration isn’t 100% true for you, then you will need to make changes by hand to the Declaration form so that it is completely true before you sign it.

If your landlord is trying to evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, talk to a lawyer right away

 

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

Communicate with your landlord to try to resolve the dispute. You can use our letter to your landlord or your own words. It’s also a good idea to talk to talk to a lawyer right away. Contact Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA). You can apply online at mtlsa.org or by calling 1-800-666-6899. 

 

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

If you are vulnerable to coronavirus and meet the other conditions of the Governor’s directive (see FAQ 1, above), then your utilities cannot be shut off. The Governor’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 propone 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. The Governor'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. The utility company may request basic documentation from you, to show that you meet the requirements for protection under the Governor’s directive.

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

 

7. 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.

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.

 

8. 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 (EHAP). Neighbor Works is providing free help to people applying for the assistance program. (Note: EHAP stopped taking applications in November 2020, but may resume in February 2021.) 

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. 

 

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

You don't have to provide detailed information. But it's a good idea to provide basic proof that you meet the requirements if the landlord asks for it, or if there is a court hearing on the eviction. 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 qualifications, including 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. The same goes for any health condition. For example, if you claim protection under the Governor's Directive based on your child's asthma, you could provide a note from the doctor or nurse that the child has asthma, but you don't need to go into any more detail. For the CDC moratorium, it's good to provide a basic showing that you meet the 5 requirements of the CDC Declaration. For the first requirement, it's a good idea to show that you have applied for financial help to a government agency or a nonprofit to cover the rent you owe.

Keep in mind that you are not required to provide detailed information about your finances or your health to the landlord or the court. You have a right to privacy of that information. You just need to provide enough basic information for each requirement under whichever protection you're claiming (the Governor's Directive, or the CDC moratorium) to show that you qualify for protection from eviction.

 

10. After these temporary orders protecting renters expire, do we know how long will it be that renters and homeowners have to catch up on payments?

There is no time limit established. It's up to the renter or homeowner to work that out with the landlord or mortgage servicer. 

 

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

The Governor'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. 

The CDC order and the CARES Act do not prohibit rent increases.

 

12. 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 could take the video yourself.

 

13. 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: Jan 29, 2021
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