Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
My landlord has threatened to lock me out of my apartment. What can I do?
- Be firm but cordial in telling the landlord that locking a tenant out of the premises, without a court order, is improper and violates Montana's landlord and tenant laws. See Montana Code Annotated (MCA) §70-24-411.
- If the landlord threatens to evict you for claiming your rights, that may be retaliatory conduct. Under most circumstances, retaliating against a tenant for legitimate tenant conduct, such as asserting your rights, is improper. But, it won't be retaliatory conduct if you are behind in rent. Remember, there is no protection in Montana law for a tenant who is behind in rent. Don't withhold rent - ever - without seeing a lawyer who is familiar with Montana Landlord/Tenant law. You lose many important rights in the law, if you do.
So I told the landlord. But I still keep getting the threats, What should I do?
If the landlord locks you out anyway, you may be able to recover up to three times the amount of the monthly rent from the landlord, if you go to court.
Keep copies of your lease or rental agreement with you. Normally, police or sheriff's officers will not help a landlord unless the landlord has a court order. If the police come to enforce any lockout, you must prove you are renting there, and not a trespasser. If you don't have a written rental agreement, keep copies of your rental receipts handy.
- In some Montana communities, it may help to forewarn the police of the possible lockout if you are having a dispute with your landlord. If the landlord is threatening you with the police, then it's probably a good idea to go talk with local law enforcement.
What about my property?
- If you anticipate a lockout, protect your valuables and paperwork, such as rent stubs, receipts, rental agreements, birth certificate, social security card, valuable possessions, and medications. Keep these in a safe place outside of the unit in case your landlord calls the police.
- Consider moving: avoid confrontation so you are not cited for breaching the peace. Find a new place to live and possibly sue for damages later. If you and the landlord are not getting along, confrontation usually doesn't help.
- A landlord has no right to keep your property from you under any circumstances without a court order. If the landlord takes your property and there is no court order, call a lawyer immediately.
- If you own a mobile home and only pay rent on the lot, the landlord is never entitled to take your mobile home without a court order. In most circumstances, you would first have to receive notice that the landlord filed something in court and you would get a chance to respond before a court would issue an order.
The landlord says he's going to call the police to get me out. What should I do?
Nothing. Most landlords understand that you cannot be physically removed from a rental unit without a court order. See the answer to the second question, above.
What if the landlord locks me out anyway?
If the landlord locks you out, and you believe there is no court order, contact an attorney.
The landlord decided not to lock me out. Instead, the electricity and gas were shut off. Now what should I do?
- Talk to your landlord. Explain your rights: inform your landlord that Montana law does not permit the landlord to cut off essential services.Whatever you discuss with the landlord, follow it up in writing and keep a copy for yourself
- If your landlord fails to provide essential services, such as running water, heat, electricity, gas, then you must give the landlord written notice about the problem and then you can:
- Obtain the essential service yourself. So, if the gas has been shut off but the electricity still works, you could purchase a space heater to provide the necessary heat. You can deduct the cost of the heaters and the additional cost of the electricity from the rent.
- Recover damages from the landlord based upon the value of the apartment, without the essential service or the extra charges you had to pay.
- Get substitute housing while the problem continues. If you do this, you are excused from paying rent for the time you are in the substitute housing.
Remember, you only have these options if an essential service is interrupted because the landlord did it on purpose or by accident.
In order to choose any option, you must give the landlord notice of the conditions that need to be fixed, and the landlord must have a reasonable time to fix the problem. You can't choose any of the options if you, a member of your family or a guest of yours created the problem.
If the essential services are not provided after the landlord has had a reasonable time to fix the problem, you may have additional remedies, such as injunctive relief - meaning a court order - to make the landlord provide the essential service. You'll need to read Montana's landlord/tenant laws or consult a lawyer to take other steps.
What if the landlord and I reach an agreement and work things out?
- That's generally the best result. If you reach an agreement, put it in writing. Have both you and the landlord sign the agreement. Both you and the landlord should keep a copy.
- If the landlord interrupted your utility service, have the landlord call the utility company and have your utilities turned back on.
- If you were locked out, make sure the landlord lets you have access back into your unit and gives back any belongings. But don't try to change locks; you can't change the locks without the landlord's consent.