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Landlord and Tenant Law in Iowa
NOTE: ******This website provides general Iowa legal advice only. Please do not call or email for more specific advice unless you are in the Carroll County vicinity. It would be cost-prohibitive to retain me on a landlord-tenant issue outside of the Carroll County vicinity. I cannot give specific advice over the phone or over the Internet. PLEASE consult a local attorney and set up an appointment to discuss your particular issues. I receive 2-3 calls/emails per day concerning specific cases, and I will refuse to discuss specifics, clarify "general issues," or just answer one quick question. I would like to keep this website available to the public, but will continue to refuse to answer specific questions outside of the Carroll County vicinity.*****
A rental certificate is required in any city or municipality with a population of more than 15,000. Iowa Code section 364.17 (3). These means that rental units must be licensed and certified in those cities and must comply with city ordinances. In Des Moines, an Inspection Certificate is required for every rental unit, and single family residences and duplexes are inspected every 36 months and apartments and condos inspected at least every 24 months. City of Des Moines Housing Code, Division 9, Section 26-757. The Iowa Code exempts owner-occupied premises and rental units in an area where there is no housing code requirement.
Failure to obtain a valid Inspection Certificate if required means the property cannot legally be rented. The tenancy would be void for illegality, but the landlord still might recover rent in quantum meruit (basically meaning recovery for what is owed). In Des Moines, landlords face fines of up to $500 for leasing homes without a proper rental certificate.
Leases should be in writing, otherwise the lease is considered month by month, and the landlord cannot recover any rental payment deficiency.
Certain provisions in leases are prohibited and cannot be utilized in a lease to circumvent the law, and could expose the landlord to liability.
These provisions include:
a. Provision waiving legal rights or remedies. Iowa Code section 562A.11(1)(a).
b. Confession of judgment on a claim arising out of the rental agreement (such as mandatory fees, including cleaning fees, in forfeiture). Iowa Code 562A.11(1)(b).
c. Agreement to pay attorney's fees. Although ok in other states, this provision is not allowed in Iowa and generic leases should be examined for this provision. Iowa Code section 562A.11(1)(c).
d. Limitation of liability or indemnification of landlord. Iowa Code section 562A.11(1)(d).
e. Different terms for different tenants based on prohibited criteria (discrimination). Iowa Code sections 216.8, 216.8A.
f. Security deposit exceeding 2 months' rent. Iowa Code section 562A.12(3).
g. Increase in residential rent during the term of lease (commercial lease ok). Iowa code 562A.13(5).
h. Late fees that deviate from the code percentage listed in the banking code ($10.day for 4 days for a max of $40 per month).
i. Incentive for early payment of rent that is disguised as a late fee. Iowa Code section 535.2(7).
j. Nonrefundable security deposit clause or provision that the tenant forfeits a security deposit under certain circumstances. Iowa Code section 562A.11(2).
k. Mandatory carpet cleaning/ repainting/ cleaning/ turning charge. Iowa Code section 562A.12(3). Normal wear and tear cannot require forfeiting any portion of the security deposit. Uhlenhake v. Professional Property Management Inc., No. CL-82571 (D. Iowa 5th District, entered April 19, 2000 (citing with approval Southmark Management Corp. v. Vick, 692 S.W.2d 157, 160 (Tex. App. 1985).
A landlord cannot demand or receive a security deposit exceeding 2 months' rent. Iowa Code section 562A.12(1). The deposit must be held in an FDIC-insured account in a bank or savings and loan association and can be held in a common trust with separate tenant entries. Iowa Code section 562A.12(2). There is no requirement for an interest bearing account, but if interest is earned, the interest during the first 5 years belongs to the landlord; interest after 5 years belongs to the tenant. Iowa Code section 562A.12(2). The landlord must keep documents to show compliance. Baculis v. McDougall, 460 N.W.2d 186, 188 (Iowa App. 1990).
The landlord must send written notice to the tenant disclosing the security deposit disposition within 30 days following termination of tenancy and receipt of forwarding address (or receipt of delivery instructions). Iowa Code section 562A.12(3). If there is no forwarding address, send the disposition notice by certified mail to the last known address (usually the rental unit). If returned by the Post Office, then there is conclusive proof that the landlord attempted to comply. The landlord must either return the security deposit or give a detailed itemization of the disposition. If the deposit is withheld, the landlord must give notice in writing and state the specific reason for the withholding, specifying the nature of the damages. Iowa Code section 562A.12(3). The landlord may only withhold the deposit to:
a. Remedy a tenant's default of rent. Iowa Code section 562A.12(3)(a).
b. Restore the rental unit to its condition at the beginning of tenancy, ordinary wear and tear excepted. Iowa Code section 562A.12(3)(b).
c. Recover expenses incurred in acquiring possession. Iowa Code section 562A.12(3)(c).
A landlord who fails to provide a disposition forfeits all rights to the security deposit. Iowa Code section 562A.12(4). Iowa Code prevents a landlord who fails to send timely notice of the reason for withholding the rental deposit from retaining the deposit, even to apply against unpaid rent owed. H-L Apartments v. Al-Qawiyy, 440 N.W.2d 371, 373 (Iowa 1989) citing Seifert v. Dosland, 328 N.W.2d 531 (Iowa 1983). In addition, the tenant can maintain a claim for wrongful retention. Iowa Code section 562A.12(4). Bad faith retention of the security deposit can subject the landlord to liability for actual damages, punitive damages of up to $200, and attorney's fees. Iowa Code sections 562A.12 (7), (8). The landlord can still sue later since the disposition or return of the deposit does not act as a waiver of damages. The 30 day requirement is not a statute of limitations for damages. Whitehorn v. Lovik, 398 N.W.2d 851, 855 (Iowa 1987).
A tenant has the exclusive right to occupy the rental unit, but this right is limited. State v. Mann, 463 N.W.2d 883, 884 (Iowa 1990). A landlord has the right to enter the rental unit to:
a. Inspect the premises. Iowa Code section 562A.19(1).
b. Make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations, or improvements. Iowa Code section 562A.19(1).
c. Supply necessary or agreed services. Iowa Code section 562A.19(1).
d. Exhibit the rental unit to prospective or actual purchasers, lenders, contractors, or tenants. Iowa Code section 562A.19(1).
e. In an emergency. Iowa Code section 562A.19(3). A landlord may enter the apartment to check on a resident in the case of an emergency.
f. At the tenant's request or with consent. Iowa Code section 562A.19(1). A tenant may not unreasonably withhold consent, and there is no requirement that the tenant be present. Unless an emergency, but for any other reason, the landlord must provide 24 hour notice and enter only during reasonable times. Iowa Code section 562A.19(3). A landlord may enter the apartment to perform a routine welfare check with the prior written consent of the tenant (an agreed service of the landlord). Iowa Code section 562A.19(1).
A tenant or landlord cannot prevent authorized third parties from accessing the property and cannot rechange the locks. If the tenant prevents access, the landlord can terminate the occupancy with 7 day notice or get a court order for injunctive relief or judgment for possession following entry and detainer action (F.E.D). Iowa Code section 562A.35(1), 562A.19(3).
If the tenant fails to comply with his obligations to maintain the property, the landlord can enter as necessary. Iowa Code sections 562A.17, 28. This noncompliance must materially affect health and safety, and must be one that can be remedied by repairs or cleaning. The tenant must be given an opportunity to cure, after which the landlord may enter if not cured. Iowa Code sections 562A.19(4), 28.
The landlord may also enter the rental unit at times reasonably necessary during a tenant's absence in excess of 14 days to conduct a welfare check of the rental unit. Iowa Code section 562A.29(2).
On a case by case basis, a landlord may enter a rental unit if the tenant abandons the rental unit. The landlord may enter and recover possession. Iowa Code section 562A.19(4). There must be evidence of vacating including removing personal property, turning in keys, forwarding mail, and other indicia that the tenant is no longer occupying the rental unit. The landlord may of course enter if the tenant surrenders possession.
Landlords can give access to public officials:
a. Municipal health, building, or public safety officials conducting scheduled or random building inspections.
b. Police serving an arrest warrant
c. Police operating under exigent circumstances that would obviate the need for an arrest warrant.
d. Police in pursuit of fleeing criminals.
e. Other cases on a case by case basis. The landlord has no more right to grant access than the tenant does, and the tenant has a Constitutional expectation of privacy in his rental unit.
Termination of Tenancy.
No Cause (Non-renewal).
Either party may terminate a lease for term by giving written notice with no reason necessary. Iowa Code section 562A.34(2)(a). The notice must be given at least 30 days prior to the end of the first or subsequent term.
In a month-to-month tenancy, the notice must be given at least 30 days prior to the periodic rental date 30 days from the next time rent is due). Iowa Code section 562A.34(2).
In subsidized housing, the landlord signs a separate HUD contract that states that a lease can be terminated only for good cause, preventing termination by giving a 30-day notice of non-renewal to a Section 8 tenant for non reason. Horizon Homes of Davenport v. Nunn, No 78/02-1420 (Iowa 2004).
Creating a Clear and Present Danger.
A tenant creating a clear and present danger to the landlord, his employees, other tenants, or other people on or within 1000 feet of the property is grounds for termination. Iowa Code section 562A.27A(1). Clear and present danger is not a generalized or non-specific threat. Clear and present danger includes:
a. Physical assault or threat of assault
b. Illegal use of a firearm or other weapon
c. Threat to use firearm or other weapon
d. Possession of an illegal firearm
e. Illegal possession of a controlled substance
f. Other dangerous activities. Iowa Code sections 562A.27A(2)(a)-(c), 562A.27(A)(2)
Being a convicted sex offender is not necessarily a clear and present danger. Westchester Village Apts. v. Coon, SC 346011 (Iowa D. Ct. 09/24/2001).
The landlord must give a written notice (may combine notice of termination and notice to quit into single notice) specifying the reason for termination, that the tenancy terminates immediately, that the tenant has 3 days to vacate (7 for other dangerous activities), and the notice must set out tenant remedies per Iowa Code section 562A.27A. The notice must state that if the tenant may have a defense if somebody other than the tenant is engaging in the activity constituting a clear and present danger. The notice must also state the tenant must as a remedy do one of the following:
a. seek a protective order, restraining order, order to vacate the homestead, etc.
b. Report the person to the police
c. Write a letter telling the other person to stay away from the premises and send a copy of the letter to the police
d. File a trespass action against the other person.
No cure period is allowed as the remedy is immediate. The landlord must be able to back up the allegations with the following: police report (no conviction is necessary), notice regarding crime-free housing, and eyewitness testimony if necessary.
Nonpayment of Rent.
For nonpayment of rent, the landlord must give a written notice specifying that the rent is unpaid, that the tenant has 3 days to cure default of rent by paying the full amount due (which includes unpaid rent and late fees only- not attorney fees), that the tenancy will terminate if the tenant does not cure the default of rent, that in the alternative the tenant may vacate the premises (quit possession).Technically the notice does not have to include the amount of rent due if this is already known to the tenants or readily available to them. Garrison v. Fetters, 383 N.W.2d 550, 553 (Iowa 1986). However the amount due should be included to inform the tenant of the amount due as there could be a difficulty in proving the tenant had actual knowledge of the amount due. Rent includes the monthly sums due but unpaid and can include bills for repairs done by the landlord in the prior month that were necessary because tenant failed to maintain the property. Iowa Code section 562A.28.
The notice of nonpayment of rent and notice to quit should not include: court costs, legal fees, other fees not yet due, notice to pay only without notice to quit, notice to quit without notice to pay. If the notice contains charges that are inaccurate or unrecoverable the notice is invalid. Seldin Company d/ba Featherstone Apartments v. Amberleah Calabro, o. 5-063/03-1252 (Iowa App. 2005) citing Sheeder v. Lemke, 564 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 1997).
There must be an opportunity to cure. If the tenant tenders the full amount of rent, plus late fees, within the cure period, the landlord must accept it, and the tenant has cured. However, the landlord is not required to accept partial payments or payment plans. The landlord may also not arbitrarily apply rent payments to other debts owed without permission of the tenant. G.F. Spataro v. Battani, 139 N.W.2d 396 (Iowa 1966). If not cured during the cure period, the landlord is not obligated to accept payment and can and should recover possession through Forcible Entry and Detainer Action (F.E.D.).
30 days' peaceable possession by the tenant with knowledge of the default by the landlord is a bar to an action for possession. Iowa Code section 648.18. This seems to require the landlord to bring an eviction action within a month of rent going unpaid. Serve notice of nonpayment of rent on the 5th of every month, rather than letting a default accrue. By giving notice every month, there is a new cure period for that month's rent. If the landlord accepts rent since the first default, then the last rent must be credited and the landlord cannot evict for owing the remaining rent. It is best to not allow tenants to carry forward unpaid rent to prevent legal questions.
Notice must be given to the tenant. This means that steps must be reasonably calculated to inform the other in ordinary course, whether or not the other actually comes to know of it. Iowa Code section 562A.8. Notice may be personal, certified mail, or posting and delivering to the unit (except for 7 day notice of noncompliance, 7 day notice of termination of tenancy, 3 day clear and present danger, 3 day notice of nonpayment of rent, and 3 day notice to quit).
There is a 30 day notice of increase of rent for month-to-month tenancy, 30 day notice of adoption of new rules, 24 hour notice of landlord intent to enter, 30 day notice of termination of tenancy (Iowa Code 562A.34(2)), 7 day notice of noncompliance (Iowa Code 562A.27(1)), 7 day notice of termination of tenancy (Iowa Code 562A.27(1)), 3 day clear and present danger (Iowa Code 562A.27A(1)), 3 day notice of nonpayment of rent (Iowa Code 562A.27(2)), and 3 day notice to quit (Iowa Code 648.3)).
All notices except F.E.D. can be served by the landlord through personal service or certified mail. F.E.D. must be served by the sheriff or private-process server.
Evictions (F.E.D) (Iowa Code Chapter 648)
Forcible Entry and Detainer Action (F.E.D.) is an action for eviction. The F.E.D.can be brought or defended in the name of the owner, the management company, or the name by which the apartment community is commonly known. Iowa Code section 631.14. If the hearing is not held within the requisite time, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the F.E.D. action. The F.E.D. action may not be filed before the end of the 3-day quit period, and there must be three full days between the date of service and the eviction hearing. The Clerk of Court must set the eviction hearing no later than 7 days from the date of filing. Iowa Code section 648.5. The hearing can be continued, but must be set within 7 days or the court loses jurisdiction. Merryman v. Merrymand and Fulton, No 5-134/04-0173 (Iowa App. 2005).
Service can be made on any person over the age of 18 who resides at the rental unit. If there are multiple tenants, one copy of the F.E.D. must be left for each of them. All the copies can still be left with one person. Fairfax v. Oaks Development Co., 713 N.W.2d 704, 707 (Iowa 2006). If a process server tries 2 attempts, then can send notice by certified mail, with date of service being the date mailed. Publication in the newspaper for one week may be conducted per Iowa Code section 648.10. Posting can be conducted after regular and certified mailing per Iowa Code section 631.4(c). F.E.D. must be served by the sheriff or a private process server .
In a bankruptcy filing, leases of real property must be disclosed on Schedule G.