Real Estate, Property Disputes, & Landlord-Tenant Disputes

property line fence

In a state as large as Montana, real estate and property disputes come in all forms. From multi-million dollar transactions involving some of the largest privately-owned tracts of land in the country to landlord-tenant issues, not every real estate deal turns out as the parties planned.

What are landlord duties and responsibilities?

Landlords in Billings, MT, have a broad range of roles and responsibilities. One of their primary obligations is to maintain the premises. This includes ensuring that the dwelling complies with local and state building codes and housing codes related to the safety and health of the tenants. Electrical, heating, air conditioning plumbing, appliances, and other facilities supplied by the landlord must be in good working condition and safe to use.

Common areas, including stairways, elevators, lobbies, and halls, need to be reasonably clean and safe. Repairs must be made in an acceptable amount of time once issues become known. When new tenants move in, landlords must ensure the dwelling has functioning smoke detectors and provide their name and address or that of the landlord’s agent.

There are certain conditions in which landlords can enter the rental property, such as inspections, repairs, or alterations. However, unless the situation is an emergency, the landlord must give the tenant at least 24 hours’ notice and enter the premises at reasonable times. In emergencies, the landlord may enter immediately and without the tenant’s consent.

State statutes prohibit certain landlord actions such as:

  • Shutting off utilities – A landlord cannot lawfully shut off utilities to force tenants to leave or because they are behind in rent. Tenants can contact the utility company directly to see if they will restore service. However, if the shutoff is illegal, a real estate attorney can help the tenant file a lawsuit against the landlord.
  • Lockouts – If a landlord changes the lock or adds a new one to prevent tenants from entering, tenants may file a lawsuit to regain access.
  • Retaliation – Landlords cannot raise the rent, reduce services or evict as retaliation for exercising their lawful rights, such as deducting repairs for rent or filing complaints with the local governmental authority.

If you believe our landlord took unlawful action against you, a property dispute attorney can assess your situation and help you determine the best course of action.

What are the rights and responsibilities of renters?

A lease indicates an agreement that a person can inhabit a property in exchange for rent payment. This agreement grants rights to the tenant, as well as responsibilities. The contract signed may or may not include paying utilities separately. Tenants must comply with local, county, and state requirements, as well as:

  • Maintain the smoke detectors
  • Operate HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems, and appliances correctly
  • Dispose of waste and garbage properly
  • Keep the dwelling clean and sanitary
  • Respect neighbors’ peace and quiet

Tenants may make minor repairs when agreed upon with the landlord or responsible party, but it cannot be a requirement. The exact terms of a lease vary widely but commonly include:

  • Security deposit rules
  • Use of the property
  • Lease length
  • Move-out requirements
  • Non-payment or late payment conditions
  • Lead paint disclosures

As long as the obligations in the agreement are not unlawful, the tenant must abide by them. If a tenant violates the provisions of their lease, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement. Depending on the reason for the termination, they may give three days’ notice or up to 14 days.

How are rental disputes resolved?

Occasional disputes between landlords and tenants are inevitable. Understanding your options can help you resolve a landlord-tenant dispute without going to court. In many cases, issues can be avoided by knowing the law. Many problems arise because one party doesn’t know their rights and responsibilities. Whether you are the landlord or tenant, taking the time to learn the law and staying current on housing laws can help you avoid problems, making for a better relationship.

Remaining calm can help you later if you end up in court. If you cannot resolve the issue without legal assistance, keeping your cool during the discussions can reflect positively on you when in front of a judge. You have several legal options if you cannot resolve the dispute after meeting with each other.

Mediation

Professional mediators are unbiased third parties who are trained to handle situations that frequently occur with rental properties. Their goal is to help you resolve issues and come to an agreement rather than litigate.

Arbitration

Similar to mediation, an arbitrator hears both sides of the dispute. However, instead of helping you work it out, they issue a legally binding ruling. If you have concerns about whether you are in the wrong, this may not be a suitable alternative.

Small Claims Court

Rental property disputes typically fall under the jurisdiction of small claims court. It is often faster and less expensive than going to criminal or civil court. You may file your claim here if your dispute involves up to $7,000 or it involves eviction.

Many cases in Billings, MT, are resolved and settled out of court once lawyers are involved. However, if you have exhausted all other dispute resolution options, litigation may be the last resort. Regardless of which avenue works best for you, make sure you document everything about the dispute. This includes detailing any unreasonable demands, housing discrimination, or any actions that go against the lease agreement. Contact RMK Law today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you resolve your landlord-tenant dispute.

Property Lines and Boundaries

Land is possibly one of the most valuable assets a Billings, MT resident can have. Whether you have less than an acre or thousands of acres, any transaction has the potential to become complicated. One of the most common points for contention is property lines. When the boundary lines are vague, there are concerns regarding the rightful owner; finding the proper documentation and determining the next steps can be complicated. A property lawyer can help you understand the details so you can make the best decision possible.

Property lines that define the boundary of different parcels of land are typically found on a county’s tax map. Although natural landmarks such as a pond or tree line can mark where the property ends, it’s often not that clear cut. Sometimes the boundary goes through the center of a field, or if the landscape changes, such as the pond drying up and becoming overgrown, determining the edge of a parcel can be challenging.

Documentation Requirements

When a legal dispute arises, gathering the appropriate documents necessary for making a determination can help resolve the matter as quickly as possible. They can include:

  • Property deed
  • Title
  • Insurance files
  • Surveys of the property
  • Topographical maps
  • Property line map
  • Geographical Information System maps

If property ownership of adjacent parcels has remained unchanged for years, or even decades, the exact boundaries may be forgotten or remembered incorrectly. Reviewing the legal documents can help avoid issues later.

In Billings, MT subdivisions, property line markers often denote the property line. Deed restrictions can affect how close to your property’s boundary you can build a fence. Conflicts regarding property lines can become heated quickly. Disputes may become lawsuits if a neighbor:

  • Builds or installs an improvement that crosses the boundary
  • Interferes with established property use
  • Doesn’t get building permits before starting the work
  • Makes an improvement that violates state or local ordinances
  • Fails to obtain approval as required, such as a homeowner’s association or city planning commission
  • Constructs an improvement that violates a deed restriction

Montana has several laws that pertain to property line and fence disputes. A significant amount of land is classified as open range. This means that it is the residential property owner’s responsibility to fence livestock out.

Litigation Options

If the situation deteriorates and you must file a lawsuit, there are generally two types. A property owner brings ejectment actions to remove someone who claims title to the property but occupying it unlawfully. This differs from an eviction, which is an action against a non-paying or unsatisfactory tenant.

A declaratory judgment places your case in front of a judge. After viewing the documentation, the court states the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved according to the laws that pertain to the situation. It does not award monetary damages but can prevent further controversies about the property.

Contacting a Billings, MT property dispute attorney at RMK Law can help you keep the situation calm and potentially resolve the issue without litigation.

Zoning and commercial leasing disputes may render a business unable to open or to operate profitably; residential rental and foreclosure issues can individuals’ living conditions; and problems with ownership, covenants, and easements can have huge financial ramifications, just to name a few.

Whatever your role in a real estate transaction that encounters obstacles, Ritchie Manning Kautz can help ensure you get what you bargained for.

Easements

If a property is inaccessible except through another person’s land, an easement may be necessary. This is the legal right to use property owned by someone else for a specific purpose. There are several types of easements:

  • Right of way – A property owner accesses their land via a driveway from the main road.
  • Homeowner’s associations/condos – The association owns public areas within the property boundary, and residents have pass-through rights.
  • Utility maintenance – Common in newly developed areas, the easement grants utility companies access to run cable and power lines on a property.

The easement holder must typically adhere to specific stipulations regarding the dimensions, scope of interest, and location. In some cases, prior use or necessity may create an easement. The property owner has the right to use the land as long as it doesn’t unduly interfere with the easement’s use.

If you are buying property adjacent to a neighboring parcel, the deed should contain any existing easement information. If an easement is ‘appurtenant,’ it is attached to the land and is transferred to new owners. If it is ‘in gross,’ the easement only applies to the current owner and does not transfer when the property is sold.

Entitlements

Land entitlement is the process necessary to gain approval for a real estate development. Zoning laws are those that regulate the use and development of the land. They are often complex and time-consuming. Depending on the project, you may require several different types of entitlements, such as:

  • Rezoning
  • Zoning variances
  • Utility approvals
  • Use permits
  • Landscaping
  • Road approvals

Development projects cannot move forward until you receive permission from the surrounding community and numerous regulatory agencies. Talking with an experienced property lawyer before you begin can help ensure you’re fully prepared for each step the process entails.

Landlord Disputes

Understanding your rights in a rental agreement is critical, whether you are the tenant or landlord. The law prohibits landlord actions such as:

  • Lockouts
  • Retaliation
  • Utility shutoffs

However, they may terminate a rental agreement with only three days’ notice in some instances. A property attorney can help with Billings, MT real estate disputes, from the security deposit and responsibilities to repairs and tenant options.

Some of Our Real Estate & Property Dispute Experience:

  • A two-week jury trial involving a large property development company in a dispute over the sale of lots at the Club at Spanish Peaks in Big Sky, Montana.
  • A federal appeal involving the subdivision, development, and sale of ranch property for residential development near Roundup, Montana.
  • A class action by tenants against owners and property managers of multiple large apartment complexes in Missoula and Billings, Montana involving alleged violations of Montana’s Landlord-Tenant Lease Act.
  • Numerous other cases involving landlord-tenant disputes.
  • A case involving claims against a real estate company on Montana’s Hi-Line regarding the sale of property on an Indian Reservation.
  • Wrongful foreclosure cases.
  • Representing individual homeowners in a long-running dispute against a Homeowners’ Association in Carbon County, Montana.

Contact the Offices of Ritchie Manning Kautz PLLP

Call  (406) 601-1400 to schedule a consultation at your convenience or contact us online and we will reach out to help you with your case.