COVID-19 Legal FAQs for Renters in
This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information. Your local city or county may have additional protections for renters.
This page was last updated on July 7, 2020. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.
Its information is taken from these sources:Montana Governor's orderMontana Emergency Housing AssistanceMontana Law HelpPrinceton Eviction Lab's COVID Policy ScorecardsColumbia Law School COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria analysisEnergy and Policy Institute Utility Disconnect Tracker
- Are there any special protections for renters during the emergency? How long do they last?
Montana Governor Bullock issued an Eviction Moratorium through May 24, 2020 that stopped landlords from evicting renters who cannot pay their rent based on COVID-19 related hardships or who must quarantine. This order also stoped utilities from shutting off services based on nonpayment. This order went into effect on March 30, 2020 and lasted through May 24, 2020 for most people.
Some Montana renters have additional protections, for a longer period of time. People in a vulnerable population (like those over 65, with high blood pressure, or compromised immune systems) and people who must remain sheltered-in-place are protected against eviction for at least 30 days after they stop sheltering in place, or for 30 days after the state's emergency period ends. Members of a vulnerable population or those who must remain sheltered-in-place must inform their landlord.
Check the Governor's Coronavirus Task Force page to see if there are any extensions to the end date.
The governor also started an Emergency Housing Assistance Program to help families who need help paying for rent and security deposits.
- What do the protections mean for renters?
The orders means that through May 24, 2020, Montana renters had COVID-19 hardships or were required to quarantine had the following protections:
- Your landlord could not give you a notice to quit.
- Your landlord could not file an eviction claim in court against you.
- Hearings on eviction may still have been happening (depending on your local court's policies), and the court may still have heard an eviction case against you.
- The court should not have issued a new order, judgment, or writ of eviction against you.
- Law enforcement should not have enforced an existing eviction against you.
People in vulnerable conditions or required to shelter-in-place may still have the above protections for 30 days after they stop sheltering-in-place, or 30 days after Montana's emergency period.
In addition, all Montana residents should not have their utilities shut off, even if they cannot pay their utility bills.
- Do I still have to pay rent during the emergency?
Yes, Montana renters still need to pay rent during the emergency, but landlords cannot charge late fees if you don't pay the full amount. They also can't raise your rent during the emergency.
If you are unable to pay, the Governor's Eviction Moratorium may protect you from being removed from your home during the state of emergency, through May 24, 2020. The moratorium also should protect you from landlord charging late fees or penalties if you don't pay, and from the landlord increasing your rent during the emergency.
But after May 24th, most renters will have to pay back rent or face possible eviction.
Also check with your local city or county government to see if they give renters any additional protections if they are struggling to pay rent during the emergency.
If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:
- Communicate with your landlord: Send a written letter or email to your landlord as soon as possible. Explain why you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19 impact. You can also try to negotiate with your landlord to make a payment plan or get a temporary rent reduction. Get help here for drafting and mailing a letter to your landlord. You can also use this letter-writing tool here.
- Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
- Keep proof of COVID-19's impact on you: Collect documents about your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. This includes letters from your employer, doctor, insurance provider, child care provider, schools, etc.
- Check for help: If you need financial assistance for housing costs, you may be able to get help.
- Can my landlord evict me during the emergency?
Montana renters could not be evicted from their homes through May 24th, if the reason for eviction is nonpayment of rent because of COVID-19 hardships. Renters in other situations may still have been evicted.
Under Governor Bullocks’s eviction moratorium order, landlords cannot evict renters who have not paid full rent because of COVID-19 reasons, through May 24, 2020. During this period, landlords can still ask for rent, but they cannot have a renter removed from their homes. The order also prevents landlords from reporting a tenant's failure to pay to credit reporting bureaus.
- Montana renters who are vulnerable or are required to shelter-in-place may still be protected against eviction. People who are 'vulnerable individuals' (meaning, over 65 years old or with serious health conditions) and who are sheltering at home will have a longer time of protection from eviction. They will have 30 days of protection from eviction after the state of emergency ends or after they stop sheltering at home (whichever date is sooner).
Once the emergency period ends, landlords can begin to pursue evictions against renters once again.
If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.
- Can my utilities be shut off during the emergency?
During the emergency, Montana renters are protected from utility shutoffs and late fee charges if they cannot pay their utility bill.
Governor Bullock ordered that that no customer will have home utilities shut off during the emergency, based on an inability to pay.
Also, the utility companies will not be allowed to charge any penalties, late fees, or interest for unpaid utility bills during the emergency. These protections have been extended through May 24, 2020. They may be extended further, check here for more updates.
Renters must still pay their utility bills. If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.
Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.
- Are you eligible for U.S. national protections against eviction?
Renters in 3 categories have special national protections against being evicted during the Emergency Period of March 27, 2020 to July 24 or 25, 2020. These national protections add onto any state and local protections you have.
Do you fit in any of these 3 categories?Your home’s owner has a federally backed mortgage loan or other guarantee (like through Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae). Search if your home is covered.You pay rent through a federal assistance program like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Rural Development Voucher, or other 'covered housing' program.You live in Public Housing, where the government is your landlord.
If you are a renter in one of these 3 categories, the federal CARES Act section 4024 gives you these protections. (Remember, these protections add onto any state and local protections you have)
- Your landlord cannot file a new eviction lawsuit against you for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period. They can still evict you for other behavior, like drug abuse, other criminal activities, or other lease violations.
- Your landlord cannot charge you new fees or penalties for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period.
- After the Emergency Period ends, your landlord may not be able to evict you immediately.(Different states interpret the protections ending on July 24 or 25. Check with local lawyers to see about your state). If you have not paid your rent in full during the Emergency Period, your landlord must wait until the period ends before giving you a notice to vacate. For example, they may give you a notice on July 26, and you must be allowed until at least August 25 to leave the property.