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What You Should Know about Evictions in Montana

Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) LSC Funded
Contents

Introduction

 

This article will give you information about your legal rights if you are facing eviction in Montana. This information covers all evictions, even if you get housing assistance from a government program like Section 8. If you get housing assistance, you have more legal protections. Learn more by visiting our Subsidized Housing section. If you own your mobile home and are renting the lot, you will want to visit our Mobile Homes section

A landlord who wants to evict you can only evict you with a court order signed by a judge. It is illegal for a landlord to force you out, like by changing your locks, without a court order. This is what the landlord must do to legally evict you: 

  1. Give you a valid notice terminating your rental agreement, 
  2. If you don’t move out by the date given in the notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against you, 
  3. If you file a written Answer with the Clerk of Court, the judge will set a hearing date,
  4. At the hearing, the landlord must prove to the court that the eviction is lawful.

This article is divided into two parts. The first part covers the notice of lease termination. The second part covers the eviction lawsuit. Each section ends with resources that you can use to take action in response to your problem. The landlord may file a lawsuit if you don't move out as requested in the notice of lease termination.

 


 

Lease Termination Notice FAQs

 

In this section, we’ll answer the following: 

 

What is a valid notice of termination?

If your landlord is asking you to move out, they must first give you a written notice terminating your rental agreement. That notice usually is a letter from the landlord. It is not filed in court. A handwritten notice is legal. Landlords can also use forms they find online as a notice.

The landlord’s notice of termination is not an eviction; it is the first step in an eviction. Your landlord must give you a written notice telling you that your tenancy will terminate in so many days. The number of days depends upon the violation alleged by your landlord. If you don't move out by the date given in the termination notice, then the landlord can sue to evict you.

For a notice to be valid it must:

  • Be in writing, handwritten is OK. Text messages or emails are also OK.
  • Say how many days you have to move out.
  • Give you the opportunity to fix the problem, if the law requires the landlord to give you that opportunity.
  • Be delivered to you. The notice can be posted on your door, given to you by hand, or mailed to you. It does not have to be served on you by a process server or law enforcement officer.

You can find the law that says what a valid notice is at Montana Code Annotated (M.C.A.) § 70-24-108. Remember, the § is a symbol that means section. 70 is the Title number. 24 is the Chapter number. And, 108 is the Section number. 

 

How many days' advance notice is required?

The number of days depends on the reason for the termination. Section 70-24-422, Montana Code Annotated (M.C.A.), says the time limits for different reasons for termination. 70 is the Title number. 24 is the Chapter number. And 422 is the Section number. 

If you receive housing assistance, or if you own a mobile home and are only renting a lot, different rules may apply. Learn more about your rights when you receive housing assistance. Learn more about your rights when renting only a lot by reading our article on mobile homes

 

Terminations for no reason:

Month-to-month:

If you have a month-to-month rental agreement, either you or your landlord can end the rental agreement for no reason. You or the landlord must give the other party 30 days advance written notice. If you want to avoid an eviction lawsuit, you need to move out before the 30 days are up. 

Week-to-week: 

If you have a week-to-week rental agreement, either you or your landlord can terminate the rental agreement for no reason. You or the landlord must give the other party 7 days advance written notice. If you want to avoid an eviction lawsuit, you need to move out before the 7 days are up. 

Termination for a violation:

A landlord can end your rental agreement if you violate your lease agreement. Below are some of the violations that may cause a landlord to end your rental agreement. The days in this chart all refer to calendar days.

Reason for Termination of Rental

When Rental Agreement Ends:

Non-payment of rent

If you don't pay the rent in 3 days after receiving the landlord’s notice 

Repeat violation happening within 6 months, if you were already given a notice before

5 days 

Activity on the premises that creates reasonable potential of damage to premises or injury to neighbors, such as gang activity, drug activity, unlawful firearm or explosive or toxic substances

3 days 

Unauthorized pet or person

If you don't get rid of the pet or person in 3 days

Damaging the rental

3 days 

Any other noncompliance or violation not specified by law (catch-all)

14 days 

 

What should I do when I get a notice terminating my rental agreement?

  • Correct the problem in the notice immediately. If the notice is for nonpayment of rent, pay the rent in full within the 3-day notice period. You may be able to find help with paying rent by searching for “rental assistance” at Montana221.org. If the notice is for an unauthorized occupant or pet, get rid of the occupant or pet within the 3-day notice period or talk to the landlord to resolve that dispute. If the notice is for any other reason under your control (like not maintaining the yard, excessive noise, etc.), correct your behavior right away.
  • Tell your landlord in writing you fixed the issue. Write back to the landlord telling them what you did to fix the problem. Keep a copy of anything you send to the landlord.
  • Talk to your landlord. Try to work out your differences before the landlord files an eviction lawsuit against you.
  • Tell your landlord in writing, if you think the notice is improper. You may have defenses to the notice if you did not actually do the thing that the notice says. If you receive housing assistance and are a victim of domestic violence, you may have defenses to the notice. You can use our letter to send to your landlord saying the notice they gave you is improper.  If you have any questions at all, it’s best to talk to a lawyer.

 

Can I just fix the problem the landlord puts in the notice?

Usually. For nonpayment of the rent and many other violations of the rental agreement, the landlord's written notice must give you a chance to correct the problem. You must do this within the number of days given in the written notice. The landlord can only end your rental agreement if you don’t correct the problem within the notice period.

A landlord can send you a notice to move out without a chance to fix the problem for committing certain crimes or making the rental unit unsafe for other tenants or neighbors. 

 

What happens after my landlord gives me the notice?

You have to make a decision. You can choose to stay past the deadline given in the notice and risk going to court, or you can choose to move out by the deadline.

You have these options:

  1. Move out before the deadline given in the landlord’s termination notice. This insures that the landlord won’t file an eviction lawsuit against you in court. Moving out also insures that the court won’t order you to pay the landlord up to 3 times the rent or actual damages (see option 2 below).
  2. Stay and defend yourself in court if you have a valid defense to eviction. At the hearing, the landlord has the burden to prove that you should be evicted. The landlord must prove that they properly terminated your tenancy before filing the eviction lawsuit. If the notice wasn't proper, the judge may throw out the lawsuit and let you stay in the rental.

Your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit against you if you don’t fix the problem or move out within the number of days stated in the notice. In the eviction lawsuit, the landlord can ask the court to make you pay any rent due and any damage that you, your household members, or guests caused. The landlord can also ask the court to make you pay holdover damages and attorney fees. Keep reading to learn about holdover damages and attorney fees. 

 

Can my landlord legally force me out if I don't move by the date given in the notice?

No. A landlord cannot force you out of the rental just because you stay past the date given in the notice of termination. Even if you are behind on the rent or the utilities, the landlord cannot legally shut off your utilities, throw your stuff out, or change your locks as a way to force you out. Without a court order for an eviction signed by a judge, the landlord cannot send a deputy over to forcibly remove you from the rental. 

All a landlord can do to legally remove you is to file an eviction lawsuit. The landlord must have you served with the summons and complaint and must give you the opportunity to respond to the court. If landlord uses any "self-help" eviction measures, like locking you out without a court order, you can sue the landlord for wrongful eviction. In that lawsuit, a judge may order the landlord to pay you up to 3 times the amount of rent or actual damages if you can prove that the landlord locked you out illegally. You can find the law that says this at Montana Code Annotated (M.C.A.) § 70-24-411. You can also learn more by reading our article on Lockouts.

If you believe that your landlord illegally locked you out, talk to a lawyer right away. 

 

What if I don’t have a written lease agreement? 

You still have the rights described in this resource even if you did not sign a written lease agreement with your landlord. A verbal agreement has the same power as a written rental agreement.

You still have the rights described in this resource even if your rental agreement has expired. A lease expiring is different than a landlord sending you a notice to terminate your lease. Read your lease to see what it says about what happens after the lease expires. Generally, you have all the rights of a month-to-month tenant. Your landlord must give you 30 days' notice to terminate your rental agreement, unless the landlord alleges some violation that allows for shorter notice. For example, if you are behind on rent, the landlord could give you a 3 day notice to pay or vacate.

 


Take Action on a Lease Termination Notice

 

If your landlord is asking you to move out, they must first give you a notice of termination. That notice usually is a letter from the landlord. It is not filed in court. 

 

Correct the Problem

If you get a termination notice that gives you the option of fixing the alleged problem, fix the problem right away. For example, if the notice is for nonpayment of rent, pay the rent in full within the 3-day notice period. If the notice is for an unauthorized occupant or pet, get rid of the occupant or pet within the 3-day notice period or talk to the landlord to resolve that dispute.

You may be able to find help with paying rent by searching for “rental assistance” at Montana221.org

 

Dispute the Notice

Your landlord must give you a valid, written notice terminating your lease. A handwritten notice is legal. A notice by email or text message is legal. Landlords can also use forms they find online as a notice. What matters most is what the notice says. 

Your landlord must give you a valid, written notice terminating your lease. A valid notice can be:

  • Handwritten,
  • By email or text message, or
  • From a printed form found online.

What matters most is what the notice says. If you believe that your landlord gave you an invalid notice, use our Improper Notice to Vacate Letter

 


 

Eviction Lawsuit FAQs

 

If your landlord gives you a notice of termination and you don't move out or fix the problem, your landlord can then take the next step and file an eviction lawsuit against you in court. 

In this section, we’ll answer the following: 

 

What does my landlord have to do to evict me?

This is the process that the landlord must go through to get a court order to evict you:

  1. Give you a written notice that says your rental agreement is terminated on a certain date. If you are a month-to-month tenant, the landlord doesn’t have to state a reason for the termination. If you are under a lease for a certain time period (like 6 months), then the landlord does have to state the reason for the termination;
  2. File an eviction lawsuit against you in court if you don’t move out by the date given in the termination notice; 
  3. Have someone serve you with the lawsuit papers. You have the right to file a written answer and appear at trial;
  4. At trial, prove to the court that the eviction is lawful.

The landlord’s notice of termination is not an eviction; it is the first step in an eviction. Your landlord must give you a written notice telling you that your tenancy will terminate in so many days. The number of days depends upon the violation alleged by your landlord. If you don't move out by the date given in the termination notice, then the landlord can sue to evict you.

 

What are the risks of going to court?

Remember, you have the right to stay and fight the eviction lawsuit in court if you have a good defense. But, there are risks to staying. The judge could rule in the landlord's favor. You could have to pay the landlord's attorney fees. You could have to pay up to three times the rent or triple damages. You can find the law that says this at § M.C.A. 70-24-429. Only you can decide what is best. 

 

What happens after my landlord files an eviction lawsuit against me?

1. You will be served - A sheriff's deputy or other authorized adult will personally deliver to you copies of the lawsuit papers. Those papers will be a Summons and a Complaint.

2. You must file a written Answer with the Court - The summons will tell you that you have 10 days to file a written answer with the Clerk of Court where the landlord filed the lawsuit. You start counting the day after you are served. In counting that 10-day period, do not include Saturdays, Sundays or holidays. In your written answer, you must admit or deny each statement made by your landlord in the complaint filed by the landlord. The court clerk will charge you a fee for filing your answer. If you can't afford the filing fee, ask the Clerk of Court for the form to fill out to ask the judge to waive the fee. You must complete the fee-waiver form within the same 10-day period that you file your answer. You can find the form to file your answer on this website

After you complete and sign the answer and have the certificate of service notarized, you must:

  1. Make 2 copies of it;
  2. Hand-deliver or mail the original to the Clerk of Court where the landlord filed the eviction lawsuit, by the 10th business day after you were served;
  3. Mail a copy to your landlord, or if your landlord has an attorney, mail it to the landlord’s attorney;
  4. Keep a copy of your answer for yourself.

IMPORTANT: If you do not file a written answer with the court within 10 business days of when you were served, you will lose the right to defend yourself in court, and you will be evicted. 

3. Hearing - The judge will set a hearing, usually within 14 days of the date you filed your answer. The Clerk of Court will mail you written notice of the date, time, and place for the hearing. 

4. A note about mediation - Some courts require mediation of landlord/tenant disputes before scheduling a hearing. If the court sends you a notice of mediation, you must attend the mediation. At the mediation, you and your landlord will sit down with a professional (not the judge) who is trained to help people come to an agreement. The mediator will help you and your landlord find ways to settle your dispute without having the judge decide. If you and your landlord reach a settlement, you will not have to go to court. If you do not reach a settlement, you must appear in court on the date of the hearing. Everything that happens in mediation is confidential. Neither you nor your landlord can tell the judge anything about what was said or done in mediation. There is usually no charge for mediation.

5. Judge's Decision - The judge will issue a written decision within 5 business days after the hearing. The decision will say whether you have to move out of the rental. If you must move out the judge’s order will give you a deadline for moving. The law does not specify how much time a judge must give you to move.

 

What if I fight the eviction in court and lose?

If you lose in eviction court, the judge may order you to pay the landlord's court costs and attorney fees. The court may also order you to pay “holdover damages” if it finds that your stay past the date given in the notice was “purposeful and not in good faith.” Holdover damages may be:

  • Up to 3 times the rent, or
  • 3 times the amount the landlord suffered by you staying past the date in the notice, whichever is greater. You can find this law at Montana Code Annotated § 70-24-429.

The law doesn't say what it means by "purposeful and not in good faith." But, if you stay in the rental after receiving the termination notice and you don't have a solid defense to raise in court, the judge could order you to pay the holdover damages.

Be aware: If you have a Housing Choice Voucher (the same as a "Section 8 voucher") or receive any other housing assistance and the landlord wins an eviction lawsuit against you, you may lose your assistance as a result of the court's decision to evict you. You may not be eligible for housing assistance again for several years. 

 

May I sue the landlord in the same eviction lawsuit?

Yes, you can file a counterclaim with your answer. If you want to bring claims against your landlord in the lawsuit that your landlord filed against you, you can file a counterclaim in that same lawsuit. For example, you may want to file a counterclaim if:

  • Your landlord has failed to make repairs, 
  • Your landlord is trying to evict you in retaliation for your request for repairs,
  • Your landlord shut off your utilities, locked you out, or threw out your stuff to try to force you to move.

You may have other counterclaims against the landlord. If so, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer

 

What do I do at the hearing?

At the hearing, the landlord has the burden to prove that you should be evicted. The landlord must prove that they properly terminated your tenancy before filing the eviction lawsuit.

Be prepared to explain to the judge why you should not be evicted. The judge may limit the testimony to the issues the landlord raised in the complaint, and to the issues you raised in your answer (and counterclaim, if any).

Examples of issues you may want to address at the hearing:

  • Tell the judge if the landlord's notice of termination did not meet the requirements in the law.
  • If photos would help you prove your defenses, take those photos to the hearing. For example, if your landlord claims that you damaged the fence, take a photo of the undamaged fence.
  • Take other people to testify, if they can support your defense. For example, if your landlord claims that your household makes too much noise, take a neighbor who will testify that you're not too noisy.
  • If there are documents that you want to show the judge, make copies of those documents and take them with you to the hearing. You will need to take three copies of each document - one copy for the judge, one copy for your landlord, and one copy for yourself.
  • Bring a copy of the notice of termination your landlord gave you, the complaint they served you with, and the answer you filed with the court.
  • Double check the date, time, and courtroom of the hearing.
  • Make plans to get to the courthouse at least 15 minutes early.
  • Put together a list of what you want to say at the hearing, and what documents you want to use.
  • Make 3 copies of each document that you plan to use as evidence. For example, if you are using pictures, print out 3 copies of those pictures.
Plan for witnessess:
  • If there are persons who have direct knowledge of information that can support your defense, contact each of them and ask if they can come to the hearing. Make sure they each have the hearing location, date, and time.
  • If the person needs a subpoena to come to court, contact the Clerk of Court to ask for a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order saying that a person must appear at a court hearing. You can find a subpoena form at https://courts.mt.gov/. 
  • Practice what you will say to the judge, to explain why you should not be evicted. 

 


Take Action on an Eviction Lawsuit

 

File an Answer to an Eviction Lawsuit

If you don't move out after receiving the termination notice and your landlord files an eviction lawsuit against you, you only have 10 business days to file a written answer with the court. The clock starts the day after you were served. Do not include Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays when counting days. You can use our do-it-yourself legal form to file an Answer to an Eviction

IMPORTANT: You must file an answer with the court within 10 business days if you want to fight the eviction. If you don't file an answer, you will lose your right to defend yourself in court, and you will be evicted. If you can't afford to pay the $30 court fee for filing the answer you can find the form on our website to ask the court to waive the filing fee

 

Get Legal Help

Montana Legal Services Association provides free civil legal help to eligible clients. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help in Montana

If you are eligible for Montana Legal Services Association, you may be able use Ask Karla to ask a volunteer attorney a civil legal question by email

 


 

Summary

 

A landlord can only force you to move out with a court order signed by a judge. A notice to terminate your tenancy is not the same as an eviction court order. The notice is the landlord’s first step before filing an eviction lawsuit. After a landlord files an eviction lawsuit, you will be served with a Summons and Complaint. 

You have 10 business days after the date you were served to file an answer with the court. In your answer, you must deny or admit each statement made in the complaint filed by the landlord. If you do not file an answer within 10 business days, you may lose the right to defend yourself in court. You can find a form to file an answer on this website. When you file your answer, you will need to pay a filing fee or ask the judge to waive the fee. If asking for a fee waiver, make sure you file the form asking the judge to waive the fee before your answer is due. 

After you file a written answer, the court will schedule a hearing or a mediation. Not every eviction court schedules a mediation. At a mediation, a mediator will try to help you and the landlord come to an agreement. Everything that happens at a mediation is confidential. If you cannot come to an agreement, then the court will schedule a hearing and a judge will decide whether you are evicted. 

At the hearing, the landlord or their lawyer must prove that you should be evicted. You have the right to have a lawyer. You have the right to bring in evidence and witnesses that support your defense. The judge will make a decision after the hearing on whether you must move, and in how many days. The judge will decide who owes who how much money. 

There are risks in going to court. A lawyer can help you understand those risks. A lawyer can help you understand if you have a good defense to the eviction. It’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer right away if you are given a notice of termination or served with an eviction lawsuit. 

 


 

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Last Review and Update: Feb 14, 2019
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