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Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Montana

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In a Nutshell

Landlords in Montana can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Montana.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated December 22, 2021


If you’re unable to pay your rent or you violate a term in your lease, you may face eviction. Getting an eviction notice can be scary and stressful. It helps to understand the steps in the steps in the eviction process and what rights you have as a renter. 

In this article, we’ll look at the eviction process in the state of Montana. We’ll discuss why a landlord can evict you and the procedures to do so legally. If you're late paying rent, if your landlord claims you violated a term of the lease, or if your lease is about to expire, this article can help you understand what may happen next.

What Is Eviction? 

Eviction is the legal process that allows a landlord to remove a tenant from a rental property. Landlords are required to get a court order before evicting a tenant. In Montana, removing a tenant without a court order is considered an illegal eviction or illegal lockout. In the state of Montana, the eviction process is the same no matter the reason for the eviction.

Who Can Be Evicted in Montana?

For a property owner to evict you, there must be a landlord-tenant relationship. This means that one person (the landlord) has agreed to lease property to another person (the tenant) in exchange for rent. This article applies to renters who are being evicted from a residential property like a house or apartment. Generally, people living with a tenant can also be evicted, even if they’re not on the lease.

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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Montana? 

There are three common reasons that landlords evict tenants: 

  • The tenant is short, late, or behind on rent.

  • The tenant has breached a lease term other than the requirement to pay rent.

  • The lease has expired and the landlord isn’t renewing it.

Late, Short, or Behind on Rent? 

Under Montana law, rent is late the day after it’s due. But your lease may provide a grace period that gives you a few extra days to pay without penalty. If you’re late paying rent, your landlord must give you some form of verbal or written notice before going to court to start the legal eviction process.

If your landlord accepts full payment of past-due rent, they can’t legally claim that you breached the lease for nonpayment of rent. But if they accept full payment of past-due rent, they don’t waive their rights to claim you’ve breached the lease in a way other than not paying rent. So if you’re late on rent and you’re keeping a pet that’s not allowed. The landlord can accept the late rent, but give you an eviction notice for the pet violation.

Likewise, if the landlord accepts partial payment of rent due, they don’t waive their rights to collect the rest of the rent or file an eviction case if you don’t pay the full rent.

Lease Expiration or Termination

In Montana, your landlord is also allowed to evict you after they terminate your lease or if the lease has expired. In both cases, the landlord alleges that you don’t have a right to live in the property, even if you’re not behind on your rent payments.

These two situations are different. Most leases are for a set term like one year. At the end of the term, the lease expires unless you can your landlord agree to renew it. If the lease has expired and won’t be renewed, but you stay in the rental unit, you can face eviction. 

Lease termination is when your landlord ends the lease early because you breached one of the lease’s terms, for example, by causing damage to the property. 

The Montana Eviction Process 

Montana landlords are required to give tenants notice before an eviction. In most cases, landlords are also required to give tenants a chance to cure the lease violation. Curing the violation means you fix the issue that caused the violation. For example, if you have a pet and the lease says you can’t have one, you rehome the pet. Curing the violation helps you avoid having your tenancy terminated.

What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?

If you fail to pay rent when it’s due, your landlord can terminate the rental agreement. But first, they must give you a 3-day written notice that you’re delinquent. Then, if you fail to pay the late rent within three days after receiving this written notice, the landlord can terminate your lease. If they do, you must vacate the rental unit.

If you fail to comply with a term of your lease and your landlord wishes to evict you, they must give you written notice. The landlord must wait for the designated notice period to pass before they terminate your lease and file an eviction case. Once you receive the landlord’s notice, this period begins. The required notice period depends on the lease violation. For example: 

  • If you have an unauthorized pet, you’ll get a 3-day notice period.

  • If an unauthorized person is residing in the rental unit, you’ll get a 3-day notice period.

  • For any other violation, the notice period is 14 days.

In these cases, you’ll have the chance to “cure” the breach of the lease by addressing the problem. If you can cure the breach before the date specified in the notice you can prevent the landlord from terminating the lease or proceeding with an eviction. Curing the breach may include making repairs, paying damages, or coming to an agreement and getting approval from your landlord.

In some cases, the landlord doesn’t have to give you a right to cure the breach of the lease. But they must still give you notice before terminating the lease. This includes:

  • If you breach the lease again in substantially the same way within six months of getting a first breach notice, your landlord can terminate the rental agreement. They must give you at least five days’ written notice specifically stating the noncompliance and the date that your lease will be terminated.

  • If you destroy, deface, damage, impair, or remove any part of the rented premises, the landlord can terminate your rental agreement by giving you a written 3-day notice that specifies your failure to comply with the lease. 

  • If you create any reasonable potential that the premises may be damaged or destroyed or that neighboring tenants may be injured, your landlord can terminate the rental agreement by giving you a 3-day written notice specifying your failure to comply with the lease. 

The notice must include the following information: 

  • An explanation of what you did or didn’t do in failing to comply with the lease.

  • Notice that the landlord will terminate the lease.

  • A deadline to vacate. You must vacate the premises on a date specified in the notice. This can’t be less than the minimum required number of days after receiving the notice.

In Montana, the landlord can give you notice by:

  • Sending it via email to an address provided in the rental agreement. Notice by email is complete by getting a read receipt or by getting a reply other than an automatically generated email reply.

  • Delivering it to the tenant.

  • Mailing it with a certificate of mailing or by certified mail to the person. It must be mailed to the place indicated by the person as the place for receipt of the communication. In the absence of this, it can be mailed to the person's last-known address. If notice is made with a certificate of mailing or by certified mail, service of the notice is considered to have been made on the date three days after the date of mailing.

What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court? 

The landlord files a lawsuit.

Once the eviction notice time period passes, if you haven’t remedied the issue your landlord can terminate your lease and file an eviction lawsuit to evict you and to collect unpaid rent. The eviction lawsuit is also called an action for possession or unlawful holdover. The landlord can also file a separate claim in court to collect damages if you violate the lease. 

The landlord serves the tenant.

Once the landlord files the eviction lawsuit, the court will issue a summons. The summons will list the date, time, and location of the hearing. You must file a response with the court called an answer within 10 days of receiving the summons and complaint. The timeline starts the day after you receive the documents. Filing an answer allows you to respond to the landlord’s complaint and address their allegations. You must file your answer with the court hearing your eviction case.

A sheriff, deputy, constable, or anyone else older than 18 can serve the summons and complaint by giving you a copy in person or sending a copy by first-class mail with a return receipt. If the landlord hasn’t received an acknowledgment of mailing within 20 days, they must try to serve the summons and complaint in a different way. 

The court holds a trial.

In most cases, after your landlord files an eviction action, a Montana court must hear the eviction action within 14 days of your appearance or the answer date stated in the summons. Though if you and the landlord agree, you can file a continuance of the hearing, which will delay or reschedule it to a later date.

In some cases, the court must hold a hearing within five business days after your appearance or the answer date stated in the summons. This will be the case if your landlord has terminated your rental agreement because you engaged in (or allowed another person to engage in) an activity on the premises that caused damage, destruction, or could have injured neighboring tenants. 

If you don’t attend the court date, you’ll likely lose the eviction case without getting to tell your side of the story. The court will award your landlord a default judgment, which allows them to legally evict you. 

Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims

If your landlord brings an eviction lawsuit against you, you’ll have an opportunity to tell your side of the story. In doing so, you can raise defenses or bring counterclaims against the landlord. If you raise an affirmative defense, you don’t contest the landlord’s claim but you provide a reason for it. If your defense is successful, it can stop the eviction. 

You can also file a counterclaim for any amount that you can recover under the rental agreement or Montana law. Most counterclaims are about the property’s conditions. The landlord is required to maintain the premises in good condition for the use and enjoyment of the tenant. If they haven’t, or if they’ve breached the lease, you can file a counterclaim. Successful counterclaims won’t stop the eviction from happening but you may be awarded damages.

During the eviction case, the court may order you to pay all or part of your rent to the court rather than the landlord. After the court hears the eviction case, it will determine the amount each party is owed and distribute the funds appropriately. 

What Happens After an Eviction Trial?

The court must make a ruling on the eviction within five days after the hearing. If your landlord wins the case the court will immediately issue a judgment in the form of a writ of possession and a writ of assistance. This is a court order that allows the sheriff to execute, or carry out, the actual eviction on the landlord’s behalf. The sheriff must execute the writ of assistance within five business days of receiving it, not counting the day it was received unless the landlord and sheriff make other arrangements.

If the court rules in your landlord’s favor and you decide to appeal the judgment, the court must hold the hearing for the appeal within 14 days of the case being transferred to the appeals court. An exception to this rule is if the eviction is based on some illegal activity. In this case, the hearing must be held within five days of the date the case is transferred to the appeals court.

Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Montana

Receiving an eviction notice can be scary and confusing. But you shouldn’t give up. Here are some tips for dealing with an eviction or to avoid getting to the point of eviction.

If you’re facing eviction and need immediate legal advice consult a tenant's rights attorney. If you’re struggling to make your rent payments, you can explore rent payment delay options. These may help you remain in the rental unit longer and/or avoid eviction.

Collect evidence supporting any affirmative defenses or counterclaims you want to bring against your landlord. This includes documents, photographs, videos, and anything else that will support your claims about the property's condition and the landlord’s failure to meet their obligations under the lease and Montana law. You can even ask a county or municipal building inspector to visit the property and make an official report about its condition. If you need more time to gather this evidence and can’t appear in court for any scheduled court appearance, you can request a continuance.

It's important to maintain a civil relationship and good communication with your landlord. This can help later if your landlord is considering evicting you. An eviction filing will go on your rental history and hurt your chances of renting in the future. 

If your landlord has started the eviction process, try to negotiate a settlement. You may be able to work out an agreement to pay past-due rent and remain in the property. Or you may agree to move out by a certain time in exchange for them dropping the lawsuit. Always make sure that any agreement with your landlord is in writing and signed by your landlord.

Tenant Resources in Montana

There are several nonprofit and governmental organizations that provide free resources like rental assistance to Montana renters. The following are some helpful links to their services. 

On August 26, 2021, the federally imposed CDC Eviction Moratorium that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic ended. The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance program is available for Montanans who’ve lost household income as a direct or indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic and are at risk of losing their rental housing. The Montana Legal Services Association provides regular updates for Montana renters on coronavirus-related assistance.



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