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James Sheets

Nowadays, it is common for two or more unrelated non-family members to find housing in a single residential unit. Evicting a roommate in Iowa requires proof that the roommate is breaking the lease agreement or that there are no contractual grounds for the roommate living in the property. In a roommate eviction case, the roommate's rights are considered against the evidence. Talk to a Landlord and Tenant attorney today to discuss your rights in Iowa.  

Common Scenarios

One common scenario is the college roommate housing situation in which three or four college students enter into a single lease agreement for a residential house.  

Sometimes in an attempt to save money, two or more working adults enter into a single agreement between themselves and a landlord for single-unit housing. The rental situation is somewhat different when a single family enters into a lease for a residential property in that the roommate household is a household between individuals who are not related as family.  

Relationship Between Roommates and Landlord

In the roommate scenario, different conflicts can arise in that the roommate has a direct relationship with the landlord but does not have a similar direct relationship with the other persons on the lease. This situation can become even more complicated when one or more roommates decide to take in another roommate to save money or help out a friend.    

When fallouts and conflicts arise between tenants in a typical household, what are a tenant's rights against another tenant? Can one tenant move to evict another tenant with whom they have a conflict or irreconcilable difference? This issue is commonly known as roommate rights: a roomer's rights against another roomer in a shared household unit. For more information read our article Recent Changes to Iowa Landlord Tenant Law.

Review the Lease

To decide this issue, the first step is to check the lease and see who, as a tenant, is a named party to the lease. A roommate who is a named party on the lease will always be better protected than a roommate who is not a named party. This is important because an unnamed party living in a common housing situation living under a lease but not on the lease has fewer rights than those named on the lease. In fact, while Iowa law does allow for written and oral modifications of the lease if the landlord has not agreed to another person living in the household, adding another roommate to the household is a breach of the lease.    

As noted, the first step in determining the rights of a roommate in a roommate dispute is to review the lease. A roommate must be a named party on the lease to have the protections provided in the lease and under Iowa Code. In reviewing the lease, the lease may expressly provide against any person living in the household without the express written permission of the landlord. In this situation, the presence of a person in the household without permission is a direct violation of the lease. The landlord can evict either the unknown roommate themselves or evict all persons within the household as being in breach of the lease.    

Landlord Actions Towards Roommate

The bottom line is this: Iowa law provides that for a tenancy at will to be created between a landlord and tenant, there needs to be mutual consent to this arrangement. Consent can be in many forms, written, oral, or implied, by the parties' actions. Thus if the landlord knows of a new roommate in the house and knowingly accepts rent from that party, this act is sufficient to bring that new roommate in as a party to the lease. Without the landlord's consent, however, a roommate does not have the contractual or statutory protections under Iowa law and has no legal right to occupy the rental household.  

Sublease Situation

The second issue to consider in reviewing the lease is whether the lease provides for the right of sublease or assignment, meaning the right of one roommate to assign their rental rights to another person not already on the lease. Frequently, leases that have been reviewed for legal purposes provide that a tenant may not sublease or assign their rights under the lease unless the landlord expressly agrees to this term.    

This right of assignment or sublease is frequently included in the lease to provide the landlord an assurance of the right to approve or disapprove of any tenant whom he wishes to lease. Any rental arrangement contrary to the right of assignment or sublease is a breach of the lease. The landlord can evict the new tenant in breach, or the alternative, evict all parties to the lease given their direct or indirect knowledge of this breach and surrender to it.  

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Evicting the Roommate

But can one tenant or roommate take an eviction against another tenant roommate in the same household? Well, the answer is it depends. First, consider the issue of what are the rights of each of the tenants as a party to the lease contract. If both tenants are on the lease, one tenant can enforce his rights under the lease against another tenant who is in breach of the lease. The trick is that this tenant must usually go through the existing landlord lease in order to enforce the lease: in effect, the tenant must call on the landlord to enforce the lease against a breaching tenant. Thus, if one tenant is destructive of the premises, another tenant on the lease can have this person evicted based on the terms of the current landlord-tenant lease.  

Failure to Pay Rent Share

What if one tenant fails to pay their "fair" share of the rent under the contract? Can this person be evicted? The answer again varies.  

Most leases provide that each named tenant is jointly and severally liable for the rent. This means that each tenant is responsible for the total amount of the rent, or in the alternative, all tenants are responsible for the total amount of the rent.  

Landlords are usually reluctant to itemize rent responsibilities between different roomers and prefer that existing tenants collect the rent amongst themselves and make up for any deficiencies amongst themselves. This ultimately means that any or all roommates are responsible for the rent, and landlords know that when one roommate fails to pay their fair share, the other roommates will probably apply pressure to make sure the defaulting roommate finally pays.  

Suing Your Roommate

Because each roommate is jointly and severally liable for the rent, one or more of the roommates who pay the rent can sue or evict the roommate who failed to pay the rent by breach of contract. Thus, if one roommate pays more than their allotted share of the rent in order to "make rent," that roommate has the option of suing the defaulting roommate either for breach of an oral contract between the tenants or alternative, seeking recovery in small claims court under equitable estoppel, meaning fairness before the law.    

Lifestyle Differences

What if one roommate finds the lifestyle or behavior of another roommate either impossible to be around or personally unacceptable? The answer here varies as to whether one roommate can evict another for these reasons. If the differences between roommates are personal differences or political, religious, social, or lifestyle differences, there is no basis for eviction for these reasons.  

If, however, lifestyle difference begins to affect the basic habitability of the household, then one tenant can enforce the code directly against the non-compliant tenant. The Iowa code requires that any rental unit be habitable, meaning any conduct by a roommate that affects the actual habitability of the household is a violation of the Iowa code and a cause for eviction. Issues of cleanliness which lead to black moldy shower walls, unhealthy food conditions, unnecessary and unusually loud noise, or poor sanitation, can be the basis for eviction and can provide one roommate a basis for eviction against another.  

Notice to Cure Compliance

In this instance, the compliant tenant should give the non-compliant tenant a seven-day notice to cure such noncompliance. A copy should also be sent to the landlord. If the noncompliance is not cured within seven days, then the compliant tenant can move and file a formal legal complaint called a Forcible Entry and Retainer Petition against the non-compliant tenant. This form is online at the Iowa courts. gov website under the menu of the e-forms. Once completed, this form must be officially served upon the non-compliant tenant and then filed in the county Small Claims Court, after which a hearing will be scheduled promptly (usually within ten days).  

Roommate Committing Illegal Actions

Another reason one tenant can directly enforce the lease and evict another tenant is the issue of illegality. The Iowa code protects against criminal activity on rental property. One tenant's illegal activity within the household is a breach of the Iowa Code. It can be directly remedied or fixed by again filing a Forcible Entry and Retainer Petition at the Small Claims court. Activities such as drug use, domestic violence, and prostitution all constitute acts of illegality and provide a compliant roommate with a right of eviction against the non-compliant roommate.  

One word of caution: it may be best to collaborate with the landlord in evicting the non-compliant roommate if an act affecting habitability or illegality occurs in the household. Otherwise, the landlord may attribute these conditions to all of the households and exercise their rights of eviction against all.  

What if You Just Hate Your Roommate?

What happens when a roommate at the personal level just does like to be around another roommate, given a difference of personality or opinion? Unless this difference violates either the lease of the Iowa code on habitability or illegality, there is little that one roommate can do to evict another roommate. One point then of further caution: a roommate should choose wisely in making their choice of living companions; otherwise, they suffer the consequences of different lifestyles or opinions.  

One last point: in a situation where a roommate moves into a housing and is not under the lease, the presence of this roommate can be deemed a "sufferance at law," meaning this is a housing issue that brings risk to other parties. Roommates on the lease put themselves at peril in the event of a roommate, not on the lease, who later causes damages to the property, as the landlord can readily hold those on the lease liability. At the same time, the roommate not on the lease can only be reached in a separate lawsuit in tort between the roommates rather than the existing rental contract.  

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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