I know a lot of you don’t want to hear that, but you better get used to it. The economy is only getting worse, and people are only getting more desperate because of this. We saw that with Mock today.
I have no idea what Mock’s problem was this morning, other than he’s overworked, underpaid, struggling, and feeling that the country he grew up in isn’t keeping its promises. I can’t remember what Mock’s first name was, but he was the appraiser that Missoula’s Professional Property Management (PPM) sent over to my apartment today. I’d been expecting him, as I’d received a letter more than two weeks ago. It’s just that I received a letter on Saturday as well, one telling me that my rent had gone up by $10. I just assumed that the appraiser would no longer be coming as PPM had already decided to raise my rent. I mean…isn’t that why you have someone appraise something?
That’s what I was wondering, so I asked Mock. Well, to be completely honest, the first thing I asked him was, “why are you appraising the apartment if you already decided to raise my rent by $10?”
Mock didn’t like that, and got defensive. He said that he wasn’t the one raising the rent, he was just the appraiser. The landlord was the one raising the rent. So I asked him why a place needed to be appraised, and he wouldn’t answer me. He said it’s not his job to answer questions like that, and he proceeded to move through my small apartment, glancing at rooms and making check marks on his clipboard.
I kept pushing him, and I asked him why he was getting defensive. He got more defensive, so much so that I actually thought he would hit me. He was kind of charging back up to me from the hallway, trying to get in my face. Finally he stormed out of the apartment, stood in the doorway, and asked me why I was asking so many questions.
I told him I wanted to know why a place was appraised, why my rent was being raised, and why he was being so defensive about it. He called me a “fucking psycho” and stormed off, so upset that he forgot his keys in the door and had to come back. I told him I’d be calling PPM about this as well as writing about it on my site. When I was talking with PPM on the phone outside he came up and took a photo of me and then went off to the other apartments on the block.
You can’t really blame Mock – he’s feeling these negative influences more than anything. I bet he’s got a mortgage that’ll never go away, kids with all kinds of student debt, and loads of other problems on top of it. He’s like most Americans – fed up and at the breaking point.
I called PPM after Mock left, and after talking with a receptionist of some sort, was transferred to someone with ‘more authority.’ This woman was able to answer my questions about appraisals without getting flummoxed and told me that appraisals in Missoula are done for three main reasons:
- Determining value.
When I asked why a Missoula apartment’s rent would go up, she told me that it was based on market activity. These are main determiners of market activity in Missoula:
- Is the market doing OK?
- Are there little or large rental increases in the market?
I asked if the reason my rent was going up was because property taxes in Missoula have gone up 60% in Missoula over the past 10 years, and we both had a good laugh, knowing that was probably the case.
She told me that PPM has a computer program that allows you to enter a property to get a rent-match comparison of similar units on the market. With this information, you can ensure that you’re pricing your unit at competitive rates, or rates that are the same as everyone else.
Now…is there price collusion in the market? I feel that there is, for we already know that all the Missoula property management agencies got together and decided that they needed everyone to have a one-year lease. Remember, it benefits them to lock in that renter as they can guarantee that steady supply of rental income no matter what economic hardship that renter may face, and they also get to earn 3 months of interest on that security deposit, which before they didn’t have a guarantee to. Since that deposit will remain for the full twelve months, they can now do that.
Whoa…wait a minute pal, are you telling me that someone can’t just up and move? That seems awfully un-American!
No, I’m not saying that – the person can move, it’s just that they have to pay the rest of their lease, unless another person moves in and starts renting that apartment or perhaps sub-lets it. We already know that the chances of this are slim, and that’s the whole reason the one-year leases were started in the first place, to protect that steady income source. We know that Missoula rentals don’t fare as well in the winter as they do in the summer and into the fall, when college students will take anything they can get. An empty rental in winter could sit on the market for months, costing the landlord or property management agency thousands of dollars, and a significant percentage of that property’s yearly haul.
You’ll find more information at the Montana Department of Justice’s Landlord/Tenant page.
The main components of leases are under the “Extension of written rental agreements” section, which lists default options that pertain to month-to-month or leases. It’s clear that month-to-month is a legal option, but one that Missoula’s rental agencies have decided to abandon. Even though it’s in the law, they prohibit you from exercising that legal option. Instead they only offer one contract, that with a lease. Take it or leave it, but good luck finding anything on the market that’s not controlled by a rental agency. It’s possible, but not easy, and this hinders an individual in Missoula.
Leases are an unnecessary burden that benefits the landlord, not the renter. Renters should be given the option of a month-to-month lease, not forced into a yearly-lease. It’s not fair, but since I know no one cares about that, I’ll go ahead and say it’s not legal. I’m not a lawyer of course – Montana requires you to go to law school to take the bar exam – but I’m sure something fishy is going on here. It’d be great if a lawyer looked into it, but I know they’re only concerned about their interests and not those of the working class.
All of Montana’s rental laws are from the 70s. That’s when the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act of 1977 was passed. Wow, just the name makes me feel old.
There are four parts to the law and lots of sections under each of those. All in all, I’m sure it’s as hard to understand as can be, the better to screw the working man over with.
One of the things that I asked PPM when I called was how far they’d would go in enforcing one of those contracts. It sounded like they’d go to hell and back.
When I asked about this I was told that yearly leases were necessary to protect owners, and that every property management place in Missoula had them. I didn’t need to ask why this was the case – I’d done so in a previous call more than a year before. Places like PPM don’t want to be without a renter during down times, such as the winter, when it’s harder to find someone. If they had to, they might go several months without any rental income on that place, and that means their profits are affected. Oh, let’s not get into the fact that many businesses will cut workers before cutting into profits, because places like PPM would never want you to even think something like that was possible. They’d steer you away from anything that had to do with profits.
So you need to sign a one-year lease. When I asked what would happen if someone really got down on hard times and had to stop paying rent and move out, I was told that lease would be upheld. So the person that doesn’t have a job and can’t feed their family, places like PPM will take them to court and make them pay whatever months remain. When I asked if this was the case I was asked if there was anything else I needed. Yep that phone call was over.
Here are some interesting features of Montana’s Security Deposit Law:
- Landlords can charge up to $1,500 for a pet deposit;
- If a security deposit is held for at least nine months, interest must be paid on it;
- Security deposits are required to be returned within 10 days after inspections have been done and it’s determined “there is no unpaid rent due, no damage or cleaning expenses, and no unpaid utilities owing by tenant;”
- There is no penalty for landlord that don’t return a renter’s deposit.
I personally feel that $1,500 is a bit excessive for a pet, but that’s just me. I guess if you’re renting a huge house, maybe. Still, it’s just one more thing that says to me, these laws were designed for the rich ruling class of Montana with the help of the bankers so that the little man can be oppressed further.
If you look at the Montana Tenants’ Rights & Duties Handbook (PDF), you’ll learn a lot about Montana renters and their rights. Here are some highlights:
- Right #5 – Right to join resident associations;
- Right #9 – Right to live free of the landlord’s retaliation.
I’m especially interested in Right #9 – living free of retaliation from your landlord, especially after writing something like this. Here are the three specific things you cannot be retaliated against for:
- Complaining of a health or safety violation to a government agency that enforces the codes;
- Complaining in writing to the landlord about the landlord not maintaining the rental property or making repairs; or
- Becoming a member.
Of course, there’s not really any penalty for the landlord if they do retaliate against you, say for writing a blog post about rental increases. Here’s what renters can do:
- End the rental agreement and move out;
- Continue living in the rental under the terms of your rental agreement;
- File a lawsuit against the landlord and ask the court to make the landlord pay you up to three times the monthly rent or three times your actual damages because of the landlord’s retaliation;
- If the landlord files an eviction lawsuit against you, you can raise retaliation as a defense, claiming that the landlord cannot evict you because he or she is only seeking your eviction because of your protected actions as described above.
So you can take it, you can move out, or you can get a lawyer. Please, tell me which renters are going to hire a lawyer? I’m not sure what the going rate is in Missoula for legal counsel, but I’m willing to bet it’s about half my monthly rent for just one hour.
So that’s not an option, just taking it or moving out.
Wow, I thought that Montana cared about me, but the state doesn’t. It’s no surprise, really – most of our legislators are lawyers. They want silly laws on the books so they can make money from them or in spite of them. It’s a sad, sad system.
One of the loopholes that landlords can use in Missoula to kick you out is to claim you didn’t maintain the rental. That voids the contract and gives them enough justification to get rid of you. The burden of proof is on you and even if you offer to fix something, the landlord can send you a letter and 5 days later you have to be out.
Wow, quite the renter’s rights we have here in Montana, huh?
You have no one lobbying in the legislature for you.
According to the U.S. Census 2010 housing report, there were 482,825 total housing units in Montana in 2010, up from the 412,633 of a decade earlier. There was a 15% vacancy rate in 2010 for those housing units and 8% of those units are solely for recreational use. For ownership, 68% of people in Montana owned their own home and that means 32% rent.
That’s a sizable portion of our population, and I feel they need to have better rights. They need to have the right to live without the tyranny of a lease hanging over their head. Few other businesses can force customers into a contract that is so one-sided. Why can Montana rental agencies?
I feel these leases burden renters, and this is an economy where we depend on renters…or are we creating something other than menial service-level jobs for the most part?
People that rent need to feel secure, and the inability to move because you have this albatross of a lease hanging over your neck doesn’t help with that. It doesn’t benefit the renter, it just benefits the landlord. Is that what we want?
I can’t help but think some of those 60,000 Missoulians that stayed home during the last election might have voted if we were talking about issues like this. These are things that affect people, and when I’ve talked with my neighbors, they’d hinted at disdain for these leases, many of whom didn’t have to sign them when they first moved in years ago.
It’s an unjust system that does nothing to benefit Montana renters but does everything to burden them. The legislature needs to address it.
- The problem is that the Missoula property management agencies force unfair contracts upon consumers, consumers that aren’t given the choice between lease and month-to-month contracts.
- All the rental agencies in Missoula collude to keep the market this way, engaging in monopolistic practices.
- The State of Montana and Attorney General Tim Fox turn a blind eye to this, and allow these unfair practices to continue.
- Montana and Missoula legislators of both political parties enable this by allowing old and antiquated laws from the 1970s to remain on the books, unaltered.
Who does this benefit? Certainly not I, and that’s why you’ve gotten an earful on it today. Get used to it – someone has to look after the masses. After all, they’re the only ones that ever bring about change. It’s why our rulers are so afraid of them and businesses need lobbying groups for protection from them.
How does that make you feel?