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Big Sky Connection - A nonprofit that advocates for fair housing laws in Montana is voicing concerns about what it says is a drastic change to state law that gives tenants half the time they used to have to respond to court action for eviction landlords. Comments from Amy Hall, board member, Montana Fair Housing.

Click on the image above for the audio.  Montana fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on someone's protected class status, including age, race, creed, familial status, national origin, religion, color, sex, marital status or disability. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

October 5, 2023 - A key change to Montana's Landlord Tenant Act is causing concern among people who advocate for affordable housing.

The Legislature shortened the amount of time a renter has to respond if they are served with eviction court papers.

Amy Hall - a board member with Montana Fair Housing - said previously, a tenant had ten business days to submit a written response, giving their reasons for being allowed to stay. Now, it's half that.

"That's not much time for a tenant," said Hall. "You know, most tenants aren't that sophisticated in legal procedures. You know, they may not know how to file an answer or what that means even, to file an answer, but they have to get that done within five business days of getting served with the court papers."

Hall said if renters don't have the $30 needed to file a response in Justice Court, a judge has the power to waive that fee based on income.

Tenants can ask the clerk of court for an application, or find it at 'MontanaLawHelp.org.'

Hall encouraged renters to communicate with their landlords and try to work out an agreement before it gets to the point of being served eviction court papers. Because once a landlord files in court, renters' backs are against the wall.

"When the tenant does not file an answer within the deadline given - and now it's five business days - they can lose automatically," said Hall. "The landlord can request entry of default."

In Montana, a landlord can file a court action for eviction when a renter is not complying with the terms of a lease.

The most common reason for eviction is the tenant's failure to pay rent, prompting changes to the landlord-tenant agreement.

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