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The following information is drawn from the Montana Landlord Tenant Act of 1977. It’s not actually legal advice; it’s just a recap of the law. The actual law is online if you’re wondering about any specifics.

Is your landlord legit or villainous?

If your rent is late, can a landlord really tell you that you have three days to pay up or move out? How much time does a landlord get to take care of a maintenance item? What if you’ve got to move – how can you get out of a lease?

When you enter into a rental agreement, a lot of things are specified in that agreement. The due date for rent, the amount of the late fee, when that late fee is applied – all these are likely spelled out. But some things aren’t made clear in a lease, like what exactly happens if you can’t pay rent. So here’s an explanation:

If you can’t pay rent, let your landlord know. She might be able and willing to work with you. But she doesn’t have to work with you.

Let’s say your rent is due on the first and late on the third. If she doesn’t have your rent in her mailbox on the third (please note that this is not you sending out mail on the third; it has to arrive by the third), she can send out a Three Day Notice.

When you get that notice in the mail, you have three options. You can come up with the rent during that three day period and get it to your landlord. You can move. You can ignore the notice. ¬†Ignoring the notice is always a bad choice. If you do take that route, you might end up getting evicted. Then you’ll be out, searching for a new rental, and no landlord will accept you because they’ll talk with your previous landlord who’ll tell them how she just had to evict you.

Face reality. If you need to find a cheaper place, be honest and get on it.

What about a maintenance issue? You can send written notice to your landlord specifying the issue (read your lease to make sure it’s your landlord’s issue to take care of and not your responsibility). In this written notice, you can say that you’re terminating the lease 30 days after the landlord receives the notice if he doesn’t fix the issue in 14 days.

If he does fix the issue within those 14 days, the lease remains valid. If he doesn’t fix it, you can leave because you gave notice. An emergency issue has to be dealt with in 3 days instead of 14. Emergencies aren’t explicitly designated, but might be something like a furnace breaking during the middle of winter, a leaking pipe that’s causing flooding, or no water to the property.

Remember to give notice in writing for this to work! And of course, you don’t have to leave. If it’s a kind of minor issue, you’re welcome to allow the landlord to take a longer time, but you aren’t required to.

If you get a job located in another town, you may be required to move before your lease period is over. If you’re on a month to month lease, submit your 30 days’ notice in writing to the landlord as soon as you know you’ll need to move. If you’re on a longer lease, you can’t end it by simply giving 30 days’ notice. But do provide your landlord with notice. Explain the situation and provide the date you’ll be out.

The landlord will need to find a new tenant to fill your place, and it’s in your best interest to cooperate with him. Clean the unit, tidy up clutter, and try to have it generally available for showing. It’s not convenient when you’re trying to pack and get everything arranged, but the sooner the unit is re-rented, the better off you’ll be.

If the landlord finds a tenant to replace you who wants to move in the day after you move out, you won’t owe rent for the remaining balance of your lease. If the unit is unrented, however, you will owe rent for as long as it’s vacant. For example, if you move out two months into a year-long lease, you’re still contractually obligated for ten months’ rent. If the landlord finds someone to move in a month after you move out, you’ll only owe for the month it was vacant.

If you’ve got questions about landlord or tenant requirements or timelines, let me know by commenting or shooting an email to, and I’ll do my best to answer you.

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