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Eugene Nassif

A majority of residential lease and rental agreements in Iowa require some form of security deposit. This is a fee upfront that is intended to act as a pot of money used at the end of the lease to cover any damage of the unit above and beyond normal wear and tear. This provides certainty to the landlord that the tenant will not destroy the unit during the lease/rental term, and, should things be damaged, money will be immediately available to fix it.  

The following article provides an overview of Iowa landlord-tenant law as it applies to security deposits. We cover the following:

  • Does Iowa law limit the amount a landlord can charge a tenant for a security deposit?
  • What is the deadline in Iowa for returning a security deposit?
  • What can landlords deduct from the security deposit?
  • How do I safeguard my security deposit from being deducted?

Does Iowa law limit the amount a landlord can charge a tenant for a security deposit?

Under Iowa law, landlords may only charge tenants the equivalent of two months’ rent as a security deposit. This is in addition to payment of the first month’s rent, which is often required prior to moving in. If your rent is $1000 a month, for example, in Iowa, your landlord can charge you $3000 up front ($1000 first month's rent plus $2000 as a security deposit). It is important to note that this is the legal maximum a landlord can charge, not the typical amount landlords do charge in Iowa.  

What is the deadline in Iowa for returning a security deposit?

Under Iowa law, landlords must return the tenant’s security deposit within 30 days after the tenant surrenders (gives back) the rental property to the landlord. This means vacating the property and returning the keys to the landlord.  

What can landlord’s deduct from the security deposit?

Generally speaking, landlords may use the tenant’s security deposit for any cleaning or repairs required to bring the unit to the condition it was at prior to the tenant moving in. Landlords can’t charge for ordinary wear and tear items in the unit.  

Ordinary wear and tear can include any of the following:

  • Fading of curtains, carpet, etc. from the sun
  • Minor marks and nicks on the walls, flooring, etc.  
  • Dirt or spotting on the carpet
  • Small tack/nail holes in a wall
  • Wearing on flooring, carpet
  • Faded paint
  • Warping of cabinets, countertops
  • Mineral/water marks in bathroom (toilet, shower, bath)
  • Worn seals, gaskets on windows, doors, etc.

Damage which landlord’s can charge a tenant for include the following:

  • Broken flooring, tiles
  • Doors, windows off their hinges
  • Rips, tears, stains in the carpet (most of the time by pets)
  • Holes or gouges in the wall which require patching
  • Water damage on flooring caused by tenant’s actions
  • Missing blinds
  • Sticky cabinets, interior walls
  • Broken refrigerator shelf
  • Cigarette burns in carpet

In short, any significant, damage caused by the tenant (either intentional or due to neglect) will be the responsibility of them to cover once they leave the unit.

How do I safeguard my security deposit from being deducted?

The key to a tenant protecting their security deposit from being deducted following your rental or lease term is to document the condition of your unit very well prior to moving in. Many times, your landlord will give you a checklist to fill out and return to them when you move in. It is very important to look through your unit thoroughly and write down every even minor imperfection with the unit. Should the landlord not provide a sheet, it might be beneficial to fill one out yourself, accompanied with time stamped photographs, and send the information to the landlord prior to or immediately after moving in via email or another time stamped method. Be sure to also keep records for yourself.

If you do have a checklist, either provided by the landlord or one you created yourself, you will then be able to compare it with any charges your landlord may have following your rental or lease term to repair the unit. If you have photo evidence or written evidence showing the condition was there prior to you moving in, the landlord will not be able to charge you for it, deducting it from your security deposit.

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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