As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread across Montana, many Montanans are now facing a new worry: being able to afford rent come April 1. With many workers laid off or forced to take unpaid leave following business and school closures, incomes for many families have plummeted, leaving them unsure of how they will pay for food, rent, and utilities.
A Missoulian article published March 26, 2020 examined many of these concerns. For most renters, the worry is not just about how they will afford rent next week but also how that will affect their ability to pay other bills in the coming weeks and months. As one tenant told the Missoulian, “In my future, I don’t want them to say, ‘She didn’t pay rent, she’s a horrible renter.’ But I’m scared when I do pay rent, I’ll be in a puddle of what bills to pay next.” In turn, landlords worry that they won’t be able to afford their mortgage payments if their tenants suddenly fall behind on rent payments.
Although some states have implemented rent or mortgage freezes or put a stop to evictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana has not yet done so. Renters who fall behind on their rent due to COVID-19 are still subject to the same eviction and landlord-tenant laws that existed before the outbreak began. Because of this, MLSA’s Housing Attorney Amy Hall does not recommend that people simply stop paying their rent or participate in a “rent strike,” as some people are advocating for in Missoula, because “the ultimate result could be ending up in Justice Court over an eviction, and there may not be good defenses for that.”
Instead, she suggests reaching out to the landlord directly to try to come to an agreement about how to handle rent payments in the coming months. “We [at MLSA] have heard from some tenants who got really nice letters or phone calls from landlords offering to help. So that was encouraging.”
As Amy Hall put it, “Of course landlords have the right to collect rent. But tenants also have the right to some compassion in this situation, which is unprecedented.”
To read the full article, click here.
For more legal information about housing during the COVID-19 outbreak, visit www.MontanaLawHelp.org. If you need additional legal assistance, you can apply online or by calling MLSA’s HelpLine at 1-800-666-6899.