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Missoula tenants protest evictions; experts offer legal advice

Missoula Eviction Protest
Missoula Eviction Protest
Missoula Eviction Protest
Wednesday Szollosi
Posted at 8:54 AM, Aug 22, 2022

MISSOULA - Some Missoula residents are rallying against what they call unfair evictions and this month dozens have gathered to protest some of the evictions.

Dozens of Missoulians recently gathered in front of a local property management company to speak out against the recent evictions. MTN News talked with tenants and legal experts to understand their frustrations — and their rights.

"Any property management company that evicts someone with nowhere to go is liable for their homelessness, and whatever suffering that causes,” said tenant Jackson Sapp.

According to the ACLU, 90% of landlords and property management companies have attorneys in eviction cases while only 10% of tenants do.

Missoula Eviction Protest
Some Missoula residents are rallying against what they call unfair evictions.

The Montana Legal Services Association (MSLA) reports that 3,000 people sought their services for housing-related issues in 2021. MSLA notes there are several programs in place to help get tenants lawyers or offer legal advice.

“It's through piecing together attorneys through MSLA — the pro bono program, and the MEIP program that we're trying to address the need as much as we can,” Szollosi explained.

The programs pull lawyers together and offer services to people in need. There are three full-time housing attorneys that work in the Missoula office and legal services are maxed out but MSLA is working to hire more staff.

Wednesday Szollosi
Montana Legal Services Association staff attorney Wednesday Szollosi

Montana Legal Services Association staff attorney Wednesday Szollosi is prepared with presentations, and resources for tenants and encourages people to call or visit online resources if they are facing an eviction.

Protesters say they want property management companies to stop evicting people who have nowhere else to go, and that they want all tenants to have legal representation.

"While we're clearly coming from a place of rage and upset, ultimately we want to be fostering a healthy community,” Missoula tenant Jackson Sapp told MTN News.

MTN News spoke with Montana Landlords Association President John Sinrud who says it’s important to be informed of what your rights are and what your responsibilities are as a renter. According to the Montana Landlords Association, misconceptions about the renter and tenant relationship do exist.

Missoula Eviction Protest
The Montana Legal Services Association reports that 3,000 people sought their services for housing-related issues in 2021.

The Association tells MTN News it is important for renters to be informed of what their rights are and what their responsibilities are when renting a property.

“Once you know the facts and you understand the complexities of the two parties — and if you comply with the law and you comply with the contract, then you’re going to be just fine,” Sinrud said.

In our initial story, a demonstrator told MTN News that "any property management company that evicts someone with nowhere to go is liable for their homelessness, and whatever suffering that causes." We asked Sinrud for a response to that claim.

“Well, again, that was a tenant-caused issue and a tenant-caused problem, and the property manager had to rectify or correct the issue. And they were left with no recourse except to go to court,” Sinrud explained.

Missoula Eviction Protest
Protesters say they want property management companies to stop evicting people who have nowhere else to go.

Sinrud also said that many property managers want to work with tenants to correct violations, avoid court appearances and avoid evictions. As for misconceptions about evictions, “landlords cannot remove a tenant from a property,” Sinrud said. “Only a judge can remove a tenant from a property.”

The Montana Landlords Association has a website for renters and landlords that can be found at http://montanalandlords.com/. There’s also a hotline available for people who have questions about their rights. That number is 406-219-1111.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comments and reactions from the Montana Landlords Association.