An attorney representing the Montana Landlords Association is threatening legal action against the State of Montana over Governor Bullock’s order that rents may be withheld during the COVID 19 crisis.

Dale Schowengwerdt with the law firm of Crowley Fleck in Helena sent a letter to Governor Bullock dated April 8 stated that there are no federal programs to assist landlords if their rent is withheld, and their own bills cannot be met.

“First, it’s not even connected to anything having to do with COVID 19,” said Schowengwerdt. “People who are fully employed are not paying rent. There are a lot of programs right now that are available to people in need, but none for landlords. Landlords have to meet their obligations like anyone else so that really puts them in quite a spot, so we raised Constitutional problems with the directive and the practical problems this presents for landlords.”

Schowengwerdt said landlords traditionally get a bad rap from society in general, however, many landlords are elderly and have tied up their security in a rental home or apartment.

“People think of landlords as having hundreds of units and plenty of money, but that is not the case,” he said. “A lot of these people are on fixed incomes or they purchased a property for investment, but they still have to pay their mortgage and their taxes on that, and everything comes due and that doesn’t stop. That doesn’t stop, and I’m hopeful that the governor recognizes that, and I think he does due to the recent statements he’s made, and I hope that we can come to some sort of resolution short of litigation.”

Schowengwerdt brought up the issue of property taxes that are due at the end of May, and wondered if the state would be willing to wait for those funds, as well.

“That’s obviously a significant burden that people are going to have to face next month,” he said. “If they’re not getting rent it’s going to be really tough to pay those property taxes, so that’s another tool that the government has in its basket. Given my initial conversation with the Governor’s office, they are becoming more understanding of that problem, and I’m hopeful that there will be a solution.”

Schowengwerdt wrote that the Directive’s Limitation on Evictions retroactively prohibits Landlords from enforcing various contractual provisions in their rental agreements, even though both landlords and their tenants previously agreed to be bound by those contract terms. The directive’s interferes with private contract rights and violates both the Montana Constitution and the United States Constitution.