In Montana, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Montana varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Montana law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Montana
Landlord Responsibilities. In Montana, landlords are required to keep their rented units in a “fit and habitable” condition at all times – included during the course of tenant’s lease agreement. This “warranty of habitability” is based around several essential amenities which must be provided by and maintained by a landlord in Montana. These include the following:
- In-unit heating
- Hot and cold water
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures
- Proper plumbing
- A smoke detector
- Adequate ventilation
- A carbon monoxide detector
A Montana landlord is responsible for acting upon all requests for repairs filed by their tenants in writing, so long as the necessary repairs are not the result of negligence on the tenant’s part. After receiving this kind of request, a Montana landlord has 14 days to repair the issue at hand. If the landlord fails to do this, then the affected tenant may take “alternative action” to perform the repair on their own (at the landlord’s expense) or may request a lease termination after 30 days pass from the day the original request was filed.
Tenant Responsibilities. Montana tenants are responsible for keeping their dwelling a safe and reasonably clean condition. To that end, these tenants must remove all waste from the premises in a timely manner and refrain from causing damage to the dwelling through direct or indirect action. If an infraction of this cleanliness standard is noted, a Montana landlord may request that the tenant immediately remedy the issue. Otherwise, they may be evicted soon thereafter for failing to meet the obligations of their lease agreement.
Montana tenants are also entitled to take one form of “alternative action” against their landlord when they fail to meet their own duties under the state’s warranty of habitability. To that end, a tenant who is facing conditions that are not statutorily fit for human occupation may make any necessary repairs and deduct the associated cost from their next rent payment. The cost of said repairs cannot exceed the cost of 1 months’ rent, though, and the actual repair must be performed by a “professional.”
Evictions in Montana
A Montana landlord may have justifiable standing to start an eviction if their tenant performs any of the following negative actions:
- Nonpayment of rent – Montana landlords are free to establish rent payment grace periods at their discretion. However, once an applicable payment grace period ends, a Montana tenant is required to immediately pay all outstanding rent or be served with a 3-Day Notice to Pay. If the tenant in question still fails to pay all of the outstanding rent within that 3 day time frame, their landlord may proceed with the formal eviction process by filing a Summons and Complaint suit.
- Violation of lease terms – Landlords in Montana are required to provide their tenants with an opportunity to cure their behavior or resolve an action that resulted in a lease term violation. That being said, upon documenting a violation, a Montana landlord can limit how much time the offending tenant has to resolve the violation based upon the severity and nature of the issue. These are a few common examples:
- Unauthorized pets or guest – 3 days
- Repair damages – 3 days
- Fix a lock that was changed without permission – 24 hours
- All other violations – 14 days
- Also, regardless of the issue that caused the violation in the first place, Montana landlords are only required to provide a 5-Day Notice (at most) to tenants who commit a repeat infraction within a 6 month time frame.
- Illegal Acts – Montana landlords are fairly free to decide which illegal actions justify eviction from their property. The production of illegal drugs and the participation in gang-related activity are two commonly cited illegal acts for this purpose, though. Regardless of the act’s nature, a Montana landlord is always required to issue a 3-Day Notice to Quit to a tenant who has been documented as participating in one or more illegal acts.
Evictions without a lease. For the purposes of eviction, tenants in Montana who rent from a landlord without entering into a lease agreement are considered “at-will” throughout their occupation their rented dwelling. However, they are still entitled to the following amounts of advance notice prior to a landlord’s eviction notice becoming active:
- Yearly rental agreement with a fixed end date – no notice requirement
- Week-to-Week rental agreement – 7 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month rental agreement – 30 days of advance notice
Illegal Evictions. Montana tenants cannot be evicted from their rented dwelling on retaliatory grounds. This includes instances where a landlord is attempting to “get back at” a tenant who has reported their landlord’s business practices to a local health or safety regulatory authority. Montana tenants are also protected from discriminatory evictions, including those that are based upon an explicit or implicit bias against any state or federal protected class.
Security Deposits in Montana
Landlords who are interested in legally collecting, maintaining, and redistributing security deposits in Montana should take note of these following statewide regulations:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Montana’s current statutory code does not establish a standard limit or maximum amount for security deposits. As such, landlords operating within the state are free to charge as much or as little as they want for new tenant security deposits, even if the amount charged is not proportional to the tenant’s rent rate.
- Interest and Maintenance – Montana landlords are not required to place their collected security deposits into any kind of established banking institution. Moreover, Montana landlords are not required to place their collected funds in an interest-bearing account. If they choose to do so, though, they have a full claim on any interest that accrues on their tenant’s original deposits.
- Time Limit for Return – Within 30 days of a Montana tenant ending their lease (naturally or through early termination), their landlord must return their remaining security deposit funds as well as an itemized list describing each deduction made (if any). Both the list and the remaining funds must be sent to the former tenant’s new address, or their last known address, if applicable.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Montana landlord wrongfully withholds all or part of a tenant’s security deposit, they may become liable to pay up to twice that withheld amount’s value as a penalty. It is unclear if this penalty is also applied to situations where an itemized deduction list is not provided, however.
- Allowable Deductions – Montana landlords may make deductions for any reasons written into an applicable lease agreement, though the following are among the most common legally-justifiable reasons to deduct part of a tenant’s security deposit:
- Compensate for damages caused by tenant that exceed regular wear and tear
- Cover unpaid rent, utility bills, or fees
- Compensate for labor on landlord’s part
Lease Termination in Montana
Notice Requirements. Montana tenants who are currently contracted under a lease with a fixed end date do not need to inform their landlord of their intent to terminate their lease, so long as that termination coincides with the lease’s natural expiration. Tenants in Montana who rent on a periodic basis do need to provide advance written notice of their intent to terminate a lease. The amount of notice needed is based upon the length of that lease’s periods, as seen below:
- Week-to-Week lease – 7 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 30 days of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. It is regular and customary for a Montana tenant who is seeking to break their lease early to invoke an early termination clause in their lease in order to facilitate their goal legally. However, when this kind of special leasing arrangement is unavailable, a Montana tenant in this position may alternatively invoke one of these other justifications for early lease termination:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Montana landlords are required to comply with all state and local health and safety codes, as well as the state’s warranty of habitability, whenever a tenant occupies one of their rented units. Failing to provide even a single essential amenity or waiting too long to make a requested repair may result in that unit falling into a state of statutory inhabitability. All affected tenants within that unit may then be able to elect for immediate lease termination on the grounds that their landlord has not met his legal obligations to keep their unit fit and livable.
- Landlord Harassment – Landlords in Montana are required to provide 24 hours of advance notice (or more, depending on the lease’s entry policy) before entering an occupied unit. This standard cannot be broken or routinely abused under state law. Doing so may constitute harassment on the landlords part, which then leaves the door open for the affected tenant to request an immediate lease termination.
Not all Montana tenants who are able to successfully break off their lease early are freed from their obligation to pay off the remainder of their lease (often known as a “buyout”). This obligation to pay can be passed on to a new tenant, however. As such, Montana tenants who are looking to terminate their lease early should always plan to pay up or look for a sublessor. Montana landlords are legally required to facilitate this re-renting process, thus making this task easier for tenants who find themselves in this situation.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Montana
Rent control & increases. Montana is one of the only US states that neither preempts local rent control policies, nor specifically allows for them under state law. As such, landlords operating in Montana are currently free to charge as much as they want for rent at this time. However, this status may change in the future if a local jurisdiction decides to enact a rent control or stabilization ordinance.
Montana’s laws do not specifically require landlords to provide notice in advance of planned rent increase, either. However, terms for this kind of advance notice can be written into a lease agreement. As it stands, though, landlords in Montana are free to charge what they want for rent without needing to justify their choice.
Rent related fees. Landlords in Montana are fairly able to charge whatever fees they feel are necessary for the smooth operation of their business. In that vein, Montana landlords are able to charge late rent payment fees whenever they wish and at any rate that they consider reasonable. However, Montana landlords are only able to charge $30 as fee for each instance of a tenant’s check bouncing or being returned for insufficient funds.
Housing Discrimination in Montana
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. Montana’s current collection of civil rights laws establish several more protected classes than those set forth in the federal Fair Housing Act. Specifically, Montana protects citizens on the basis of marital status and age when it comes to matters of seeking out and participating in the state’s housing industry.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The state of Montana places most of the administration of its statewide fair housing regulations on an outside organization known as Montana Fair Housing. This organization dictates that any of the following actions or business practices may be used to justify filing a complaint when the action in question is targeted at one or more protected classes:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate for housing
- Establishing differing terms, conditions, services, or facilities between tenants
- Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
- Participating in blockbusting or other actions that use intimidation to force a tenant to move out against their own best interest
- Failing to provide certain lending services, such as a mortgage, to an otherwise qualified candidate
- Discriminating in the appraisal of property
- Publishing advertisements that imply a preference for or against certain types of tenants
Montana citizens only have 180 days to report perceived discrimination, so Montana Fair Housing recommends individuals to file a complaint as soon as possible. Information on how to do this can be found on their website. This group does not handle how or to what extent landlords who are found to have discriminated against their tenants are punished, though. As such, it is unclear what penalties misbehaving landlords face in Montana, if any.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Montana
Don’t overlook these several important Montana landlord-tenant laws! They may not fit under any other category, but they can still have a noteworthy impact on your leasing relationship:
Landlord Entry. Landlords in Montana are required to provide 24 hours of notice before entering an occupied unit for any non-emergency reason. This includes occasions where a tenant has requested a repair, or the landlord needs to show the unit to a prospective renter. These provisions can be increased (but not decreased) by a lease agreement’s terms.
A landlord in Montana is generally understood to be able to enter a tenant’s unit without permission only when an emergency threatens the inhabitant’s health or safety. This and other entry provisions cannot be used to invade a tenant’s privacy, though.
Small Claims Court. Landlords and tenants in Montana who are not able to settle their disputes in a mutually-beneficial manner can elect to bring their claims to the state’s small claims court. Cases heard in this venue can be valued at up to $7,000, but only carry a 5 year statute of limitations if it involves a written contract (or a 3 year statute of limitation for oral contracts). Eviction cases may be heard in this venue, as well as in the state’s civic courts if the value of that case exceeds $7,000.
Mandatory Disclosures. As far as mandatory disclosures go, Montana landlords only have two pieces of important information that they must disclose to all new tenants. The first is federally-mandated information about lead-based paint in pre-1978 buildings. The only other mandatory disclosure compels landlords to provide the name and address for all individuals who are allowed to manage the tenant’s building.
Changing the Locks. Montana state law expressly forbids tenants from changing or modifying their unit’s locks without express permission from their landlord. When permission is granted for such an action, the tenant must always provide their landlord with a new spare key. Failing to do so may represent grounds for eviction.
Similarly, Montana landlords cannot change their tenant’s locks without permission. Doing so may cause an illegal lockout, which the state also expressly prohibits as a form of retaliation.
Montana Landlord-Tenant Resources
Don’t miss out on these great Montana landlord-tenant resources! Each can help you play a more active role in your leasing relationship from here on out:
Montana Small Claims Court – This consumer-friendly primer on Montana’s small claims court system can help you understand this judicial system beyond its bare-bones requirements. This primer includes a glossary of terms landlords and tenants alike should know before filing a case.
Housing Authorities and Tribal Housing Authorities in Montana – This collection of contact info for all of Montana’s local housing authorities can make it easier for landlords and tenants alike to get the support they need. This list includes information on tribal housing authorities, which are more knowledgeable when it comes to the ways specific reservation housing laws differ from that of the state at large.
Landlords and Tenants in Montana – This primer on landlord and tenant responsibilities in Montana includes several useful legal applications based upon the state’s legal precedents. This includes a glossary of words regularly used in lease agreements that new tenants may not be familiar with.