Letter to Landlord About the Governor’s Eviction Directive for People Vulnerable to Coronavirus (write-in-the-blank form)
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
Before You Start
The Governor of Montana has ordered a halt on some evictions for renters who are vulnerable to coronavirus and who meet other conditions.
Early in the pandemic, then-Governor Bullock on May 19, 2020, issued a Directive that remains in effect today, and protects some Montana renters. Governor Greg Gianforte took over as governor in January 2021 and has kept the Governor’s Directive in effect.
The May 19, 2020 Directive is still available online (go to page 3 of the Directive). The May 19, 2020 Directive refers back to previous directives on March 30, 2020 and on April 22, 2020. You can read the previous directives online at the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force Joint Information Center.
Gov. Gianforte has left in effect the May 19, 2020 Governor’s Directive. This resource outlines the protections in the directive, and the requirements to qualify for the protection.
If you meet the requirements in the Governor’s May 19, 2020 directive, you may be protected under the directive, and also under the CDC order that halts evictions.
The Governor has ordered a temporary halt on evictions and other landlord actions resulting from a tenant's nonpayment of rent, utilities, or other monetary obligations for renters who meet the criteria set out in the Directive:
- You must have suffered a significant financial hardship as a result of the virus,
- You must remain sheltered at home,
- And, at least one of these conditions is true for you or someone in your household:
- You are over 65,
- You have a serious health condition, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, or asthma, or
- You have an immune system that is compromised, such as by chemotherapy.
Your landlord is required to notify you about the Governor’s Directive, before moving forward with an eviction. You may have received a letter from your landlord about it. But even if you haven't received that kind of notice from your landlord, it is a good idea to inform your landlord that you are protected by the Directive, if you meet the criteria above. You can use the letter at the end of this article to inform your landlord.
Under the directive, a residential landlord in response to a tenant's nonpayment must not:
- Terminate a tenancy or refuse to extend the terms of a tenancy on at least a month-to-month basis;
- Charge or accrue late fees, interest, or other charges, penalties, or amounts due from a tenant because of nonpayment of rent;
- Increase the amount of rent payable under the terms of a rental agreement (except previously agreed increases or reasonable increases reflecting the size of the unit, number of tenants or guests, or services provided by the landlord);
- Request the suspension or termination of any utilities provided by the landlord to the tenant, because of the tenant's nonpayment of utilities, rents, or other amounts due under the rental agreement;
- Report a tenant to a credit bureau for nonpayment of a financial obligation;
- Seek or collect treble damages based on the failure of a tenant or authorized guest to vacate the premises. "Treble damages" is something available to landlords in some eviction lawsuits. Treble damages could be 3 times the amount of the monthly rent or 3 times the actual out-of-pocket loss experienced by the landlord). You can read the law for yourself at Section 70-24-429, MCA; or
- Terminate a tenancy or refuse to renew or extend the terms of a residential dwelling tenancy on at least a month-to-month basis.
The Governor's directive also states:
- No default judgment can be entered by a court against a tenant in a lawsuit for eviction or for unpaid rent. A default judgment is a final ruling by a court. A judgment is by default when the defendant in the lawsuit (the tenant, in an eviction) fails to file a written answer with the court by the deadline, or fails to appear in court for a hearing. The default judgment would give the landlord what the landlord asked for in the lawsuit.
The Directive's temporary halt on evictions does not expire for vulnerable persons until the soonest of these two dates: 30 days after the person stops sheltering at home, or at the end of the COVID-19 emergency.
Important: Renters covered by the Governor’s directive still need to pay their rent, and comply with their lease agreement. The directive just puts a temporary halt on some actions related to eviction. You can use a free letter, at the end of this article, to ask your landlord to give you more time to pay the rent.
Why should I use this letter?
If you meet the requirements under the Governor’s directive, you should send your landlord a letter, even if you also qualify for protection under the CDC order. The Governor’s directive protects qualified renters against late fees and other charges, rent increases, and utility shutoffs. The CDC order only protects qualified renters from eviction. So, if you qualify for protection under the Governor’s directive, you must send your landlord a letter to assert your rights.
What do I do after I fill in the letter?
It’s a good idea to have proof that you gave the letter to the landlord. If you hand the letter to the landlord, have someone with you as a witness or ask the landlord to sign something acknowledging the day the letter was received. If you mail the letter, it’s a good idea to mail the letter by first-class mail with a Certificate of Mailing. The post office charges $1.50 more for the Certificate of Mailing. Keep the Certificate of Mailing receipt. That is your proof that you sent the letter. With a Certificate of Mailing, the landlord will not have to sign anything to get your letter. The landlord cannot refuse delivery.
You can also send the documents by email or text message to your landlord.
Be sure to keep a copy of your letter for your own records.
If your landlord has already filed an eviction lawsuit against you, it is a good idea to also provide a copy of your letter to the court.
Can my landlord require more information from me about my qualifications under the Governor’s directive?
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:
- Are sheltering in place under this order,
- Are a member of a vulnerable population, and
- Have been financially impacted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
It's a good idea to provide some kind of basic documentation to show how you qualify for each of the three requirements. 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.
What if my landlord is trying to evict me?
If your landlord is threatening to evict you, or you have been served with court papers, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer right away.
If you’ve been served with court eviction papers, you only have 10 business days to file a written Answer with the Clerk of Court before the landlord can ask for a default judgment against you. Important: In your written Answer to the Court, it is a good idea to write out in the space for “Other” if you are protected from eviction by the Governor’s directive. State in the “Other” section the reasons why you qualify for the protection. You can learn more about how to file a written Answer by checking out our 5 steps to take if you’ve been served with eviction papers.
Need help with rent or security deposit?
- Apply for the Montana Emergency Housing Assistance Program (MEHAP). If you need help with the application, Neighbor Works may be able to help you apply. (Note: EHAP stopped taking applications in November 2020, but may resume in February 2021.)
- Check out the County Resource Guide for your county to find local resources.
- Visit Montana211.org or dial 2-1-1 for help finding local resources.
Need legal help?
- Montana Legal Services Association provides free civil legal help to low income Montanans. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help in Montana.
- If you live outside Montana, you'll need to find legal help in the state where you have your legal problem.