Real Estate, Housing & Property Law in Montana

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 What is Real Estate Law, and What Does it Cover?

Real estate law governs the purchase and sale of real property, both commercial and residential. Purchasing property can be ones of the most important personal and financial commitments an individual or business will ever make. For this reason, it is essential to know exactly what an individual is purchasing, which includes the boundaries, title, and condition of the property.

Real estate laws provide protection for many parties, including:

  • Buyers;
  • Sellers;
  • Land owners;
  • Contractors;
  • Real estate agents; and
  • Builders.

During any real estate transaction, it is essential that all sales and purchase documents are clearly written in order to avoid problems and delays at a later time. If this does not occur, it may lead to a dispute between the parties.

Real estate litigation may include issues such as:

State real estate laws regulate commercial and residential real property transactions as well as landlord-tenant relationships. Federal laws provide protection from discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and for environmental violations.

What is a Mortgage, and How Will it Affect Me?

A mortgage is a real estate lien on an individual’s property placed on the property by a bank or other financial institution for the repayment of funds that the individual borrowed in order to pay for the property. A mortgage includes a promissory note, which is a promise to repay the lender even if the individual sells the property. It also includes a deed of trust, which acts as the lien and guarantees the lender will get their money back, even if the borrower fails to pay.

A large number of individuals obtain a mortgage when they purchase a home or other property because they do not have the funds to purchase it outright. They are then required to make monthly mortgage payments. 

As with any other type of debt, it is essential for an individual who is interested in a mortgage to be aware of the nature of the mortgage and the offers of the lending institution. Failure to make payments as required by the mortgage may result in foreclosure.

What are Some Common Housing and Property Law Disputes? 

Property disputes are legal disputes that involve real estate. While it may sound simple, there are a wide range of possible housing and property law disputes. Properties that can be involved in disputes can include:

  • A vacant lot;
  • A home;
  • A deck;
  • A condominium;
  • A manufactured home;
  • A pond;
  • A driveway; and
  • Many other possible elements of real property. 

Property disputes can be major or minor and will, in some cases, affect the marketability of title. In addition, a property dispute can involve just about any party who has an interest in the property. The majority of property disputes involve the owner of the property in some way, but may also involve:

  • Neighbors;
  • Landlords and Tenants;
  • Homeowner Associations (HOAs);
  • Trespassers;
  • Family Members;
  • Builders and Developers;
  • Government Agencies; and
  • Municipalities.

It is important to note that municipalities and cities can also be part of property disputes. Cities can own property and often have agencies which regulate property or issue building permits.

Disputes involving municipalities and cities may also involve issues of eminent domain. In these cases, the government has the right to take and use property for a public purpose.

Other common property disputes may include:

  • Boundary disputes regarding the location of a property line;
  • Landlord-tenant disputes, which may involve disputes regarding who is responsible for damage or repairs to the property, whether there was sufficient damage for the landlord to retain the tenant’s security deposit, or issues regarding eviction from a property;
  • Zoning issues, which involves whether the property is being used for the purpose for which it is zoned, what zoning ordinances the town has in place, and whether or note the owner needs to apply for a variance;
  • Homeowner association responsibilities, which may include whether the HOA is responsible for maintenance and upkeep of some elements of the neighborhood;
  • Utility easements, which property owners may not be aware are located on their property; and
  • Ownership disputes regarding who is the rightful owner of a property.

Boundary disputes are also a common type of real estate dispute. In some cases, an owner may not be aware of their property boundaries or may erect a building or fence that is actually on their neighbor’s property.

What are Some Common Consequences of Real Estate Violations in Montana? 

The remedies for a property dispute will depend on the nature of the dispute and the state in which the property is located. Some potential remedies include:

  • Injunctions;
  • Judicial sales;
  • Monetary damages; and
  • Quiet title actions.

Injunctions are ordered by a court to stop an individual from engaging in an activity. It may also be referred to as a cease and desist order. It may include ordering an individual to stop burning trash that is a nuisance to their neighbor’s property.

Judicial sales are common in foreclosure citations. In these cases, the owner has failed to make payments and the property is sold in order to pay back the lender.

Monetary damages may be awarded in some cases to remedy a loss an individual has suffered as part of a property dispute. For example, if a neighbor cuts down a tree, the individual may be entitled to monetary damages, such as the value of the tree.

A quiet title action is a specific type of lawsuit that is used to determine legal ownership of a property. It is used in some cases when the chain of title in the public record is not complete.  

Does Montana Have Any Unique Real Estate, Housing, and Property Laws?

Yes, Montana is one of only 12 states in the United States that is considered a non-disclosure state. This means that when real estate is sold, the sales price is not disclosed to the public or available in the public record. This restricts the access of citizens and businesses to this information.

In addition, for every real estate sale in Montana, the Code of Montana requires the collection of a Realty Transfer Certificate (RTC) for the Montana Department of Revenue. The sales prices of all real estate and the property information that is related to the sale must be kept confidential by the Montana Department of Revenue and county clerks. This means the Montana Department of Revenue is prohibited from using prices from the sale of property as a means for determining property tax amounts.

Should I Hire a Montana Real Estate Lawyer for Help? 

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced Montana real estate lawyer with any real estate issues you may have in Montana. There are many nuances in real estate law that may be difficult and not well known. This is especially true in complex transactions.

If you are purchasing or selling a home in Montana, it is important to have an attorney’s help ensuring that all requirements are met and all documentation is clear and accurate. Having a lawyer help at the outset will prevent future unnecessary disputes.

If you have a property dispute that cannot be remedied by communication with the other party, a lawyer can be an invaluable asset, especially if someone else is trying to claim ownership of your property. Your lawyer can review your situation, research the property records, and provide you with advice regarding the best steps to take.

Your attorney can assist you with removing a lien on your property and clearing up any title issues you may have. An attorney can also represent you during any court proceedings, if your dispute requires a lawsuit. Having an attorney’s help with any real estate transactions can help make for a peaceful and secure ownership process.

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