A state landlord advocacy group has demanded Gov. Steve Bullock end his order barring landlords from evicting tenants during the COVID-19 crisis.
If the governor refuses, the group said it will sue.
The governor's directive "puts Montana landlords in a very vulnerable position," the attorney for the Montana Landlord Association argued in the letter.
Dale Schowengerdt with the Billings law firm Crowley Fleck is the attorney representing the group.
The governor's directive was ordered March 30 and stops landlords from evicting tenants from their residences and charging late fees or other penalties during the state's stay-at home order.
Bullock's directive also stops residential foreclosures because of nonpayment and prohibits charging late fees.
The Montana Landlord Association argues that provisions contained in federal relief bills and expanded unemployment give renters and homeowners adequate assistance to pay their rent or mortgage. The governor's order rather than helping renters just hurts landlords, they argue.
The governor's directive does not include provisions for landlords, though they also would have protections for their mortgages under the directive.
Bullock responded Thursday afternoon, acknowledging the concerns of Montana landlords.
"We will talk to landlords to figure out a way to work with them," he said
Still, with the COVID-19 crisis, Bullock stressed how important it is for every Montanan to have shelter. But he reemphasized what he said at the time of the initial announcement of his directive.
"Let me be clear, this directive is not a free pass on rents or on home debt, tenants and homeowners still need to meet their obligations," Bullock said in March.
He echoed that statement Thursday, explaining that his directive "doesn't excuse anyone from paying rent."
When Bullock made his initial announcement, he said he wanted state residents to take his stay-at-home order seriously and not have to worry about "whether they can keep a roof over their heads."
The Montana Landlord Association letter stressed that landlords have also worked to help their tenants.
"To the extent their resources allow, landlords in Montana have been empathetic partners in helping individuals and families through the challenges presented by this unique situation," the letter stated.
Other provisions outlined in the newest amendment are restrictions to one-one-one massage therapy services and the closure of some "non-essential retailers" including arts and craft stores and hobby stores.
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