Governor Steve Bullock today announced consumer protections to lessen the economic impacts on Montanans during the COVID-19 statewide emergency by stopping evictions, foreclosures and cancellation of utility services including water, heating and internet service.
“One of my top priorities is continuing to find ways to ease the financial hardships on Montanans. So long as this virus forces Montanans to stay home to save lives, Montanans need a home to stay in,” Governor Bullock said. “This order ensures that a loss of income won’t lead to Montanans losing their homes or having the heat turned off if they can’t pay the rent or make their monthly utility bill.”
For the duration of the Directive, landlords are prohibited from terminating a lease or refusing to renew or extend the terms of a current lease agreement, at least on a month-to-month basis. It also prohibits late fees or other penalties due to late or nonpayment of rent, prohibits rent increases except for those previously agreed upon and prohibits landlords from seeking damages in court due to nonpayment of rent.
The Directive also stops involuntary sales of homes, foreclosures, liens placed on residential properties or late fees charged due to inability to pay mortgage payments on time for the duration of the Directive.
The Directive does not relieve tenants from paying rent or borrowers from paying mortgages or other financial obligations related to homeownership.
Additionally, the Directive prohibits suspension of utilities during the emergency, including electricity, gas, sewage disposal, water, telephone, or internet services, and prohibits late fees for bills due during the Directive.
The federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) passed by Congress on Friday includes additional funding for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP), which helps low-income households with heating homes, weatherization, and energy-related low-cost home repairs or replacements. LIEAP in Montana is administered by DPHHS. To apply for LIEAP, contact your local LIEAP (Human Resource Development Council) offices, call 1-833-317-1080 or visit the state’s LIHEAP website at www.lieap.mt.gov.
Finally, the Directive also requires public housing authorities to extend deadlines for housing assistance recipients. It also requires the Montana Commissioner of Banking, along with the Montana Department of Commerce, to identify tools that could be used to bring Montanans relief from the threat of residential foreclosure, and to promote housing stability.
Governor Bullock declared a statewide emergency to respond to COVID-19 on March 12.The Directive is effective now through April 10, 2020, in line with other Directives, though it may be extended.