Montana Security Deposit Laws in 2024

Introduction to Montana Security Deposit Laws

Security deposits are funds paid by a tenant at the start of a lease to cover any damages or unpaid rent at the end of the tenancy. Montana law provides specific protections for tenants relating to security deposits under Title 70, Chapter 25 of the Montana Code Annotated (MCA). 

The purpose of security deposits in Montana is to give landlords a way to cover legitimate expenses related to damages beyond normal wear and tear or unpaid rent, while protecting tenants from landlords unfairly keeping deposits. Montana sets limits on security deposit amounts and has strict requirements for landlords to return deposits or provide itemized deductions.

Key regulations in Montana law include:

  • Limiting security deposits to an amount equal to one month's rent
  • Requiring deposits be held in a trust account 
  • Mandating deposits be returned within 30 days after lease termination
  • Obligating landlords to provide written itemization of any deductions
  • Allowing tenants to recover up to twice the deposit if improperly withheld

Montana statute 70-25-201 MCA specifically details the procedures, rights, and responsibilities governing security deposits in the state. Tenants have important protections under the law if a dispute arises over deposit return.

What is Considered a Security Deposit in Montana?

In Montana, a security deposit is defined as any advance or deposit of money, regardless of its denomination, which is furnished by a tenant to a landlord to secure the performance of the terms of the rental agreement.

This includes any required prepayment of rent other than the first month's rent. However, an advance payment of the first month's rent is not considered a security deposit, unless it exceeds the amount of rent.

Montana law prohibits landlords from charging any nonrefundable fees to tenants. All security deposits must be fully refundable at the end of the tenancy, minus any lawful deductions for damages or unpaid rent. This helps ensure tenants are not unfairly charged non-refundable move-in fees disguised as security deposits.

Limit on Security Deposit Amount in Montana

Unlike some other states, Montana does not impose a legal limit on how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. However, the typical security deposit amount in Montana is equal to 1 month's rent. 

Landlords have discretion to charge a higher deposit amount if they desire, but 2 month's rent is generally considered the maximum that is reasonable. Tenants should view security deposits higher than 2 month's rent as a potential red flag about the landlord or property conditions.

While Montana law does not prohibit higher security deposits, tenants always have the right to try to negotiate the deposit amount before signing a lease agreement. If a landlord insists on a security deposit greater than 1-2 month's rent, the tenant should make sure this is allowable under the lease and try to get the reason for the higher deposit in writing.

Requirements for Handling Security Deposits in Montana

In Montana, landlords must follow specific legal requirements for handling security deposits:

  • Security deposits must be held in a separate bank account that is not used for any other funds. Landlords cannot commingle security deposits with their own money or rent payments.
  • Landlords must provide the tenant with the name and address of the bank where the security deposit is held. This information must be provided when the landlord collects the security deposit.
  • If the landlord changes the location where the security deposit is held or transfers ownership of the property, they must notify the tenant of the new account location or return the full deposit to the tenant.
  • Landlords cannot make deductions from the security deposit account except as provided by law. Normal operating expenses cannot be paid from the security deposit account.
  • Interest earned on security deposit accounts belongs to the tenant. Landlords must pay tenants the interest amount annually or apply it as a credit towards rent.

These requirements protect tenants by ensuring transparency and proper accounting of security deposits. Keeping deposits in separate accounts deters landlords from improperly using the funds for other purposes. Tenants should request written confirmation of where their deposit is held and notify the landlord if they do not receive proper interest payments. Violating security deposit handling requirements can result in penalties against the landlord.

Returning Security Deposits in Montana 

Landlords in Montana must return a tenant's security deposit within 30 days after the tenant moves out and provides their forwarding address. This 30 day timeline gives the landlord time to inspect the unit, complete any cleaning or repairs needed, and send an itemized deduction list.

If there are no deductions, the full security deposit must be returned within 30 days. If keeping any portion of the deposit, the landlord must send the tenant a written list itemizing all deductions along with the remaining deposit balance within 30 days. 

Montana law does not allow any exceptions to this 30 day limit for returning security deposits and accounting for any deductions, even for long-term leases. Landlords who fail to meet this deadline may be liable to the tenant for up to twice the amount of the full security deposit.

Tenants should provide their forwarding address when they move out and follow up in writing if they have not received their deposit or an itemized deduction list within 30 days. This paper trail can support the tenant's case if forced to take legal action against a non-compliant landlord.

Allowable Deductions from Security Deposits in Montana

Under Montana law, landlords are permitted to deduct the following from a tenant's security deposit:

Unpaid rent

If a tenant moves out with unpaid rent, the landlord can use the security deposit to cover the balance owed. This includes rent owed for the final month or any previous months where rent was not paid in full.

Damage beyond normal wear and tear

Landlords can deduct the cost of repairing any damages to the unit caused by the tenant or their guests that exceed normal wear and tear. This includes things like broken windows, damaged walls, stained carpets, broken appliances, etc. The landlord will need to provide documentation such as receipts or invoices for the repair costs. 

Cleaning fees

If the tenant leaves the unit significantly dirtier than the condition in which they found it, the landlord can charge cleaning fees to return it to a rentable condition. This does not include routine cleaning between tenants; those costs cannot be deducted. But costs for cleaning smoke damage, removing trash and personal items, extensive carpet cleaning, etc can be deducted if properly documented.

Montana law requires landlords to provide tenants with itemized lists of all deductions from the security deposit along with corresponding invoices, bills, or damage estimates. Deductions cannot be taken for normal wear and tear or pre-existing conditions.

Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damages in Montana 

Normal wear and tear refers to the minor deterioration that occurs naturally over time as a result of standard occupancy and use of a rental unit. Landlords in Montana cannot deduct costs from a tenant's security deposit for normal wear and tear issues.

Some examples of normal wear and tear in rentals in Montana include:

  • Minor scuff marks on walls 
  • Faded paint or carpet from sunlight and foot traffic over time
  • A few small nail holes from hanging pictures
  • Minor scratches on floors or countertops 
  • Stains that could not be removed with standard cleaning

Landlords can only deduct costs from security deposits for actual damages caused by tenants above and beyond normal wear and tear. Some examples of damages tenants can be liable for include:

  • Large holes in walls or doors
  • Significant carpet stains or burns
  • Missing fixtures or appliances
  • Broken windows or screens
  • Damage from pets like claw marks or urine stains

The distinction between normal wear and tear and damages is not always clear cut. Generally minor aesthetic issues like a few scuffs or faded paint are normal wear and tear, while damage requiring repairs like carpet replacement would warrant deduction from the security deposit.

Tenants who believe a landlord unfairly charged them for normal wear and tear issues have the right to recover their security deposit by taking the landlord to small claims court in Montana.

Tenant's Rights and Recourse in Montana

Tenants in Montana have important rights when it comes to security deposits. Most notably, tenants have the right to do a walkthrough inspection of the rental unit with the landlord before moving out. This allows the tenant to point out the condition of the unit and document any pre-existing damage. Having a record of the unit's condition at move-out is crucial in case there is a dispute over deductions from the security deposit. 

If a landlord illegally withholds all or part of a security deposit in violation of Montana law, the tenant has legal recourse. The tenant can take the landlord to small claims court to recover up to twice the amount of the security deposit, in addition to any improperly withheld portion of the deposit. If the tenant wins in small claims court, the judge may also award reasonable attorney fees. This provision deters landlords from wrongfully keeping security deposits and gives tenants leverage to get their deposits returned in full. With proper documentation and evidence of the unit's condition, tenants have a good chance of recovering double their deposit plus fees if the landlord violated security deposit laws.

Landlord Obligations and Penalties in Montana

In Montana, landlords must follow strict guidelines when handling security deposits or they can face penalties. The main obligations are:

30 Day Deadline

Landlords have 30 days after a tenant moves out to return the security deposit with an itemized statement of any deductions. If the tenant provides a forwarding address, the deposit must be mailed to them within 30 days.

Itemized Deductions

If any amount is deducted from the security deposit, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written list explaining the damages and charges. General statements are not sufficient.

Double Deposit Penalty

If a landlord fails to comply with the security deposit law, the tenant can recover up to twice the amount of the deposit in court. This penalty is designed to deter landlords from illegally withholding deposits.

Other Remedies

Tenants may also be awarded court costs and attorney fees related to recovering wrongfully withheld deposits.

By violating the clearly defined procedures for handling security deposits in Montana, landlords risk severe penalties including paying the tenant double the deposit amount. Most disputes can be avoided by promptly returning deposits within 30 days and providing detailed accounting of any deductions. Tenants have legal recourse if landlords attempt to make improper claims on the deposit.

Disputing Improper Security Deposit Deductions in Montana

If a tenant believes the landlord has wrongfully withheld all or part of their security deposit in Montana, the tenant has recourse through the small claims court. The burden of proof will be on the landlord to provide documentation and evidence showing cause for making any deductions from the deposit. 

If the tenant takes legal action and the court finds the landlord improperly withheld the security deposit, the judge can award the tenant up to twice the amount of the deposit, in addition to any attorney fees. This helps deter landlords from illegally or unfairly deducting from deposits, knowing they may have to pay double if challenged in court.

To successfully win a security deposit dispute in small claims court in Montana, the tenant should come prepared with the following:

  • The original copy of the lease agreement showing the security deposit amount.
  • Receipts or bank statements showing payment of the full security deposit. 
  • Photographs and videos documenting the condition of the unit at move-in and move-out times. These help prove willful damages vs normal wear and tear.
  • Any written inspection reports or walkthrough notes at move-in or move-out.
  • Documentation from the landlord itemizing any deductions from the deposit, or showing failure to provide this information within 30 days.
  • Copies of any correspondence requesting the return of the deposit or explanations of deductions.

With proper documentation, the tenant has a good chance of recovering their full deposit back, or even double the amount if the landlord is found to have violated Montana security deposit laws. The judge can award attorney fees as well, avoiding out of pocket legal costs for the tenant.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a landlord have to return a security deposit in Montana?

In Montana, landlords have 10 days to return a security deposit if no deductions are taken, and 30 days if there are deductions. The landlord must provide an itemized list of any deductions made from the deposit for damages or unpaid rent.

What is considered normal wear and tear in a rental in Montana?

Normal wear and tear in Montana includes minor and reasonable wear that occurs from normal use of the property. This typically covers fading paint, small scuffs on walls, worn carpeting, and loose door handles. It does not include damage that impacts the function or usability of the property, such as large holes in walls or broken fixtures.

In Montana, all security deposits are considered refundable. Landlords are not allowed to charge non-refundable fees as part of the security deposit. Any deposit taken at the beginning of the tenancy must be returnable, subject to deductions for damages beyond normal wear and tear or unpaid rent.

What are my rights as a tenant in Montana?

As a tenant in Montana, you have the right to a habitable living environment, the right to privacy with landlords required to provide 24 hours' notice before entering the property, and protection against retaliation and discrimination. You also have the right to withhold rent under certain severe circumstances affecting habitability, though this should be done with caution and potentially legal advice.

Are screw holes considered normal wear and tear?

Yes, small screw holes from hanging pictures or similar decorations are generally considered normal wear and tear. However, excessive holes or very large holes that require more than simple patching might be considered damage.

What are the new laws for Montana in 2024?

For the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding new laws in Montana for 2024, it's best to consult state government resources or legal aid organizations that track changes in housing laws and tenants' rights. Housing laws can change frequently, so keeping informed through official channels or legal assistance services is recommended.

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