Legal FAQs for Renters in
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Do I have housing protections because of COVID-19?
My landlord gave me an eviction notice
What can I do?
I've been sued in court for eviction
What can I do?
Do I have housing protections because of COVID-19?
- Are there any special protections for renters during the emergency? How long do they last?
Montana's statewide emergency protections for renters have expired, though some renters may be protected through the national CDC moratorium.
Earlier, Governor Bullock had 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 stopped 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 Montana renters?
If you do not qualify for national protections, then in Montana:
- Your landlord can still give you a notice to quit.
- Your landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against you.
- The court may allow the eviction trial to move forward.
- The court can still issue a new order, judgment, or writ of eviction against you.
- Law enforcement can enforce an existing eviction order against you, to remove you from your home.
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.
You may still be protected against eviction in Montana with the national CDC Eviction Moratorium through June 30, 2021. Read more below to see if you are protected.
- Do I still have to pay rent during the emergency?
Yes, Montana renters still need to pay rent during the emergency.
You may be protected from eviction based on nonpayment of rent through June 30, 2021. if you follow the CDC's National Eviction Moratorium's rules. But you may be sued for eviction after the special protections end, and will still owe all your rent.
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:
- See if you qualify for the national CDC Eviction Moratorium. If you do qualify, fill in the Declaration form and give it to your landlord. This can help stop the eviction or give you a defense against it.
- 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 landlords can sue tenants for eviction since the statewide protections ended.
But if you can't pay your rent because of hardships during COVID, you can try to stop the eviction through the national CDC moratorium.
- 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).
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 eviction protections under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
What is the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium orders that renters should be protected from eviction if they are unable to pay their rent due to hardships like job loss, income loss, or medical expenses. This protection lasts from September 4, 2020 through June 30, 2021.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium is not automatic protection against eviction. Renters need to fill in a Declaration document and give it to their landlord to get the protection.
Landlords may still try to file an eviction lawsuit against renters, but renters can use the moratorium to defend themselves in court.
Do you qualify for protection under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium applies to people who:
- Rent a home in the United States; AND
- Make less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if you file a joint tax return); AND
- Are facing eviction based on nonpayment of rent (not for other problems, like lease violations or criminal activity); AND
- Can show they’re unable to pay rent because they’ve had a financial hardship, like losing a job, decrease in income, or medical bills; AND
- Can show that they’ve been trying their hardest to pay their rent and find any rental assistance; AND
- Can show that they’re at risk of homelessness if they were to be evicted.
If you live in a state, county, or city that has an eviction moratorium, the CDC Eviction Moratorium doesn’t replace this local one. It adds on top of your local protections.
What does the CDC Eviction Moratorium get you?
The CDC Eviction moratorium can stop an eviction proceeding against you. It could stop your landlord from removing you from your home, or from a court giving your landlord an eviction order through June 30, 2021.
- If your landlord has already started an eviction lawsuit against you, you can use the CDC Eviction Moratorium as a defense in court.
- You can use the Declaration form to tell your landlord that you are protected from eviction, and to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- You must follow the process below to be protected by the CDC Eviction Moratorium.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium does NOT get you rent relief:
- Even if you fill in the Declaration, this does not cancel rent that you owe, or stop rent or late fees from building up.
- After the CDC Moratorium expires on June 30, 2021, you may be evicted for the rent that you owe.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium may NOT stop a landlord from suing you:
- Even after you fill in the Declaration and send it to your landlord, they might still file an eviction lawsuit against you.
- You can bring the Declaration to the court eviction hearing, to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- Call a local lawyer for help if your landlord sues you for eviction.
How do you use the CDC Eviction Moratorium to protect yourself?
To secure CDC Eviction Moratorium protection, follow these steps:
- Apply for rental assistance. Look for any rental and utility assistance in your area, and submit applications to these programs. Find local assistance programs here.
- Fill out Declarations. You and every adult in the household need to fill out a Declaration about your financial hardships and your attempts to get assistance. In the Declaration, you must say that you are telling the truth and that you may face legal consequences if you are lying. You can use this guide for help with the Declaration.
- Send the Declarations to your landlord, and also tell the landlord that you will do your best to pay when you can. Keep a copy of the Declarations, as well as any receipt or documentation that you have sent it to your landlord (like email receipt or screenshots of the message). These can be useful evidence that you followed the process correctly.
- Protections through June 30st. After you send this, your landlord cannot remove you from your home for nonpayment of rent through June 30, 2021. They are also never allowed to harass or intimidate you, or force you to leave the home without a court order.
- If your landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against you, you can bring your Declarations to the court to ask them to stop the lawsuit. Contact a legal aid lawyer to help you with the lawsuit. Please note: Your landlord can still evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, like for engaging in criminal activity in the home, violating building codes or health ordinances, or threatening the health and safety of other residents.
- You will continue to owe your rent. Try to make a plan about how you will take care of all the rent you owe. At the end of the Eviction Moratorium protections on June 30, 2021, you will no longer be protected from being evicted.
- Make sure you know your lease and its terms. Some landlords may try to evict you based on violations of the terms in your lease. If you know your lease, you can protect yourself by making sure you do not break any of its terms.
If your landlord is trying to evict you, you should contact a legal aid attorney who helps with evictions. The CDC Eviction Moratorium might give you protections that lawyers can help you with.
What if I need repairs?
Can I break my lease?
What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me in Montana?
Are eviction cases still proceeding through court?
My landlord gave me an eviction notice
- My landlord gave me a notice to "pay or quit" my rental home. What should I do?
You may not have to leave your home. Consider your options. Talk to your landlord to try to resolve the issue. Propose a solution. Communication is important. Most landlords prefer to avoid the hassle of an eviction lawsuit, if possible. If you propose a good option, your landlord may agree.
In Montana, your landlord must give you a notice of termination of your rental agreement before they may bring you to court to evict you for not paying your rent (or other reasons). The notice should give you time to either pay your rent, remedy any violation, prepare defenses against eviction, or move.
The landlord’s notice must follow some rules to be valid. If it doesn't follow these rules, then you can challenge it and you may be able to stop an eviction.
These are Montana’s requirements for an eviction notice:
- The notice must be written down (text messages and emails are valid).
- It must explain why you may be evicted -- whether it is for non-payment of rent, a lease violation, or other reason. (But, if you’re a month-to-month tenant, your landlord doesn’t have to have a reason. You can be evicted for no reason, on 30 days’ notice.)
- The notice can be hand-delivered or mailed. Montana law may also allow a landlord to orally give the tenant ‘notice.’
Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't correct, or if you need assistance in defending yourself against the eviction.
- What if the landlord has just told me, face-to-face or over the phone, that I need to leave my home in Montana?
A verbal conversation doesn't usually count as an "eviction notice" in Montana. To be legal, the notice should be written down and given to you in the correct way (by mail or hand-delivery). But the law also says that if you have “actual” knowledge of the landlord’s request that you move out, such as from a verbal conversation, that may be sufficient notice.
Reach out for legal help if your landlord is trying to make you leave without going through the court process. This is illegal and a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself.
- Do I have to leave my home in Montana by the time of the eviction notice's expiration date?
No, you do not have to leave (or 'quit') your home by the date listed on the eviction notice. But if you don’t have good defenses to the eviction it might be best to leave.
You do not have to leave your home until after your landlord files an eviction lawsuit against you, and wins. If that happens, the judge will order that you move out by a certain date.
After the date on the landlord’s termination notice passes, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court against you. If you file a written answer to the eviction lawsuit with the court, you will be able to go to court and present defenses to protect yourself. After the hearing, it will be up to the judge to decide whether you have to move.
Beware! There are risks to staying past the date on the eviction notice. If your landlord ends up winning the eviction lawsuit, the judge could order you to pay the landlord’s attorney fees and other money. Also, a court eviction judgment against you is public record. That eviction judgment could make it harder for you to find a rental in the future.
My eviction notice says that I will be evicted unless I pay back-rent I owe in Montana. What if I can't afford to pay it?
How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice to pay back the rent to stop the eviction in Montana?
I've been sued in court for eviction
- My landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against me in court in Montana. What should I do?
You should make sure that the landlord properly 'served' you with the lawsuit. If they didn't give it to you in the correct way, you can challenge the eviction lawsuit. In Montana, a landlord must follow certain rules to let you know about the lawsuit:
- Only certain people can give you the lawsuit's Summons and Complaint. A sheriff’s deputy or other adult must personally deliver to you the Summons and Complaint.
You should also reach out to local lawyers who can help you prepare for your court hearing so you can protect yourself against the eviction.
- Do I have to do anything after I get an eviction Summons and Complaint in Montana?
Yes. In Montana, you are required to file a written answer with the court, to respond to the eviction lawsuit, if you want to avoid the eviction. You also have to provide a copy of your written answer to your landlord or to the landlord’s attorney (if the landlord is represented).
You will have 10 business days after you receive the Summons and Complaint to file your written answer with the court. (You don’t count Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays that fall within the 10 days.) If you do not submit this response to the court by the 10th day, you will lose the right to defend yourself in court, and you will be evicted. If an answer is filed denying the allegations, a hearing will be held within 14 days of filing the answer. If you cannot afford to pay the $30 filing fee to the court to file your written answer, ask the court clerk for the fee waiver request form to fill out. You can also find the fee waiver form here.
Reach out to legal help to learn what your rights and defenses are in your eviction case. These organizations can help you deal with this lawsuit.
- Can I settle my eviction case without going to court in Montana?
You can come to an agreement with your landlord anytime before the court hearing, but you should still go to court to make sure your case is closed.
You can work with your landlord to work out an agreement before the date of the court hearing. This might be a payment plan or other agreement on what needs to happen for you to stay in your home.
Be sure to get this agreement in writing, so that you can prove it exists and that your landlord follows through on it.
Also, you should still go to court for your hearing date, to make sure the court knows about the agreement and closes the lawsuit. If you do not go to court, the lawsuit might still continue and the judge might rule that the landlord can remove you. Go to court yourself to make sure this doesn't happen.
You can reach out for legal help to get assistance in negotiating an agreement with your landlord, and making sure this agreement is being followed.
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