Montana has specific rules and procedures regarding the eviction process. To successfully evict a tenant, a Montana landlord must follow these procedures carefully. To begin the eviction process, Montana landlords must first terminate the tenancy. Landlords cannot terminate a tenancy that is subject to a lease without reason, such as a tenant's failure to pay rent or violation of a lease provision. After the proper termination notice has been served and the notice period has passed without resolution of the issue, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit.
A Montana landlord who wishes to evict a tenant before the tenant's lease or rental agreement has expired must have a valid reason to do so. Under Montana law, common examples of acceptable reasons to evict tenants are failure to pay rent and violation of the lease or rental agreement. Courts often refer to a landlord's valid reason to evict as "legal cause."
When a Montana landlord has legal cause (such as a failure to pay rent) to evict a tenant, the landlord must terminate the tenancy before filing an eviction lawsuit. Termination of a tenancy is accomplished through providing the tenant with written notice of the termination. What type of notice the landlord must give to the tenant depends on the reason (legal cause) the landlord has for evicting the tenant. The following are the types of termination notices recognized by Montana law.
(Mont. Code Ann. § 70-24-422(1) (2021).)
A landlord who wants a tenant to move, but does not have legal cause to evict the tenant, must wait until the tenant's tenancy has ended before expecting the tenant to move. In some instances, the landlord will still need to give the tenant written notice to move.
A Montana landlord who wants to end a month-to-month tenancy, but does not have legal cause for eviction, can give the tenant a written 30-day notice. This notice must inform the tenant that the landlord is ending the month-to-month tenancy and that the tenant must move out of the rental unit by the end of 30 days. If the tenant does not move out in time, then the landlord can proceed with an eviction against the tenant. (Mont. Code Ann. § 70-24-441 (2021).)
A landlord who wants a tenant with a fixed-term lease (that is, a lease with a specified end date) to move, but does not have legal cause for eviction, must wait until the lease has ended before expecting the tenant to move. The landlord is not required to give the tenant written notice to move unless the terms of the lease specifically require the landlord to do so. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit by the end of the lease term, then the landlord should stop accepting rent from the tenant and proceed with an eviction lawsuit.
Even though a landlord might have a valid legal cause to evict a tenant, the tenant could still decide to fight the eviction. The tenant could also have a valid legal defense against the eviction, such as the landlord discriminating against the tenant or failing to maintain the rental unit. If the tenant chooses to fight the eviction, there could be unexpected consequences, such as increased legal costs for both the landlord and the tenant or the tenant being allowed to remain living in the rental unit for a longer period of time.
The only legal way a landlord can remove a tenant from a rental unit is by winning an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. Even then, the landlord is not the one who will actually evict the tenant. Only a law enforcement officer with a court order can physically remove a tenant. It is illegal for the landlord to try to force the tenant to move out of the rental unit, and the tenant can sue the landlord for attempting an illegal eviction.
After the tenant has been evicted, the landlord might find personal property left behind in the rental unit. If the personal property has any value, then the landlord cannot just throw it away. Under Montana law, after an eviction, the landlord can move the abandoned property to a safe location. The landlord must make reasonable efforts to notify the former tenant in writing that the former tenant has ten days to claim the property before the landlord disposes of it. If the tenant responds within this ten-day period, then the tenant will have another seven days to actually remove the property from the landlord's storage. The landlord can charge the tenant for the costs of storage and can prohibit the tenant from taking the personal property until the tenant has paid the landlord the storage costs. If the tenant does not claim the property in time, then the landlord can dispose of it. (Mont. Code Ann. § 70-24-430 (2021).)
Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by Montana law when evicting a tenant; otherwise, a court will likely not order an eviction. Although these rules and procedures might seem burdensome, they help ensure that the eviction is justified and that the tenant has enough time to find a new home. For more information about evictions in Montana, check out Montana Legal Services Association's brochure, What You Should Know About Evictions in Montana.