What Protections for Renters Exist in Montana Because of the Pandemic?
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
If you rent a place to live in Montana, this article can help you:
- Learn if you are covered by any protections because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article covers protections from evictions, as well as other protections, such as late fees and rent increases.
- Find free forms that you can send to your landlord to tell them if you’re protected.
Latest Updates: 04/12/21
- On March 28, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) extended its order temporarily halting residential evictions until at least June 30, 2021. Read the full CDC Order.
- The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance program is now 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.
- Governor Gianforte issued a directive on February 12, 2021 that clearly states that the CDC order applies in Montana. The Governor’s directive does not clearly state whether former-Governor Bullock’s directives from 2020 remain in effect. The remainder of this article assumes that the 2020 Governor’s Directives are still in effect. This article will be updated if that changes.
This article is intended for Montana renters. If you rent somewhere else, you’ll want to find legal help in your state. If you’ve been served with eviction court papers, be sure to also review the article 5 Steps to Take When Served with Eviction Court Papers in Montana.
There are three sources of protection for renters in Montana:
- The CDC order that halts some evictions through June 30, 2021.
- The 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.
- 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. Keep reading to find out more.
1. The CDC Order
You may be protected from eviction by the order of the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) because of the COVID-19 pandemic if you are behind on the rent and ALL of the following are true:
1. You have used your best efforts to obtain government assistance for rent or housing.
2. One of these three income statements is true for you:
- You expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return),
- You were not required to report any income in 2019 to the IRS,
- You received a stimulus paycheck during the pandemic.
3. You cannot pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of income, loss of compensable working hours, loss of wages, you were laid-off, or you had extraordinary medical expenses.
4. You are using your best efforts to make timely partial payments to the landlord that are as close to the full payment as your circumstances allow.
5. Eviction would likely make you homeless or force you to move into close quarters with others or shared living settings.
If you live as a temporary guest in a hotel, motel or seasonal housing, you will not be protected by the CDC’s eviction ban. But if you are renting a motel/hotel room on a more permanent basis, you may be protected.
2. The Governor's Directive
If you’re a Montana renter who is behind on the rent, you’re protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent, and you’re protected from fees and rent increases if you meet the requirements of the Governor’s Directive. These are the requirements you must meet to be protected:
- You must have suffered a significant financial hardship as a result of the virus, and
- You must remain sheltered at home,
- And, at least one of these things are 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.
Also, if you meet the requirements of the Governor’s directive, then you are also protected from utility shutoffs and late fees. Utilities covered include gas, water, electric, sewage, phone and internet. If you’re behind on any utilities, it’s a good idea to contact your utility company to let them know that you meet the requirements. You’ll still have to pay for your utility usage, but the Governor’s directive gives you more time to pay.
UPDATE March 2021: This article assumes that the Governor's Directives issued in 2020 remain in effect, even though Gov. Bullock has left office. Gov. Gianforte’s directive issued on February 12, 2021, does not clearly state whether the 2020 directives from 2020 remain in effect.
3. The federal CARES Act
If you reside in a federally covered property, you may receive some limited protection from the federal CARES Act. Federally covered properties include those where the landlord receives any HUD funding, including Housing Choice Voucher or Section 8, and USDA-funded properties, and LIHTC tax credit properties, and properties with a federally-backed mortgage.
The temporary halt on evictions under the CARES Act ended on July 25. But, if you reside in a federally covered property and if your landlord seeks to evict you for nonpayment of rent after July 25, your landlord must give you a 30-day notice of nonpayment of rent instead of the usual 3-day or 7-day notice required by Montana law. During the 30-day notice period, if you end up paying all the rent that’s due, then the landlord can’t file an eviction court action against you.
Landlords of federally covered properties also can’t charge renters any fees or penalties for nonpayment of rent. For more information on CARES, check out this summary by the National Housing Law Project. If you aren't sure if your rental is federally covered, 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.
Get Help with Rent
You still are responsible for paying your full rent. The CDC order, the Governor’s order, and the CARES Act each require you to pay the rent. Your rent is not forgiven by any of these orders. You still must pay your rent in full; these orders just give you more time to get the rent paid.
The CDC order specifically requires you to apply for all financial assistance programs that are available. If you don’t, you may not be protected by the CDC order.
If you’re behind on your utilities and meet the requirements of the Governor’s order, contact your utility company to let them know. You may be asked to provide some documentation showing that you meet the requirements.
- If you believe that you are protected from eviction by the CDC order, you must send your landlord the CDC Declaration form.
- If you believe that you are protected by the Governor’s directive, you must send your landlord a letter to invoke those protections. Download our free write-in-the-blank letter to landlord.
- If you believe that you are entitled to the 30-day notice of nonpayment under the CARES Act, and your landlord gave you less than 30 days’ notice, contact your landlord to ask for the full 30 days to pay your rent. If your landlord goes ahead and files an eviction court action against you for nonpayment without giving you the full 30-day notice, be sure to file a written answer with the Clerk of Court. Be sure to include in your answer a statement that you didn’t get the 30-day notice required by the CARES Act.
If you have any questions, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer.
- Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) gives free civil, non-criminal legal help to eligible clients. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help.
- If you are eligible for Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA), you may be able to get free legal advice from a volunteer attorney by email using Ask Karla.
- The State Bar Lawyer Referral Service may give you contact information for attorneys who provide, for a fee, the type of assistance you are seeking. You can contact the State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (406) 449-6577 or montanabar.org.
File a Complaint
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are tracking reports of illegal evictions to ensure landlords and property owners are following federal, state, and local moratoriums. The CFPB and FTC will enforce penalties against landlords who violate eviction moratoriums.
Filing a complaint with the FTC or CFPB isn't the same as filing a written Answer to an eviction lawsuit. If you’ve been served with eviction court papers, you should still file a written Answer to the lawsuit with the Clerk of Court where the case is filed.