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The following article will cover an overview of landlord-tenant laws in Iowa, the eviction process, and finally some new and updated laws regarding landlord-tenant issues, specifically due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  

Landlords and tenants often have many questions and concerns as they enter into lease agreements. With the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in 2020, now continuing into 2021, landlords and tenants have additional questions about what programs or protections they may have access to.

The following article will cover an overview of landlord-tenant laws in Iowa, the eviction process, and finally some new and updated laws regarding landlord-tenant issues, specifically due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  

Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws in Iowa

Iowa has adopted its own version of the landlord tenant act, codified in Iowa Code Sections 562A.1 to 562A.37. This law, combined with federal and local laws provides regulation of landlord tenant relationships in Iowa. The following is an overview of these regulations as they apply in Iowa landlord tenant relationships.

Required Landlord Disclosures

Under federal, state and local laws, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants, typically in the lease or rental agreement.  

Under federal law, landlords typically require disclosure of lead paint information to tenants renting buildings built before 1978. In Iowa, landlords typically need to disclose information regarding security deposits, nonrefundable fees, damages to the property, tenants’ rights, utility arrangements, building code violations, presence of mold, radon, or pests, among other things. Finally, there are local disclosures which vary in different city/townships. These disclosures can range from local zoning ordinances to local code rules/violations to rules regarding who can live in the unit.  

Iowa Security Deposit Limits and Returns

Under Iowa law, a landlord can charge a tenant the equivalent of two months’ rent as a security deposit. While landlords may charge less, two months’ rent is the most they can charge.  

Following the end of the lease, a landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit within 30 days after the tenant has surrendered the rental property to the landlord (vacated the property and returned the keys).  

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.

Finally, in situations where there is a dispute over the rental deposit, claims will be handled in small claims courts.  

Iowa notice requirements to raise rent and other rules regarding rent

Iowa law regulates many issues regarding rent including late fees, notice given to raise rent and how much time the tenant has to pay rent before a landlord can evict them. If rent is $700 or lower, late fees cannot exceed $12 a day or $60 a month. If rent exceeds $700 a month, late fees cannot exceed $20 a day or $100 a month. A landlord must give the tenant 30 days' notice to raise rent if the tenant is on month-to-month terms. They may not raise rents if the landlord and tenant have a lease contract with a set price in the contract. Finally, a landlord must provide 3 days’ notice for nonpayment of rent prior to them filing eviction proceedings against the tenant.  

Tenant’s right to withhold rent in Iowa

Tenants have the right to withhold right, exercising their right to “repair and deduct” if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs. Under Iowa law, making repairs to a tenant’s residence is an option when a number of factors are met. First, the problem has to impact the livability of the property as defined by Iowa Code Section 562A.15. These problems can include code violations regarding health and safety. Examples of this include mold problems, bug problems, issues with plumbing, heating/cooling or electrical systems, problems with garbage pickup, and windows/doors being broken. Issues with decorative elements (paint, curtains, etc.) do not qualify. Second, the problem cannot be the fault of you, the tenant, a member of the tenant’s family or a guest of the tenant. Finally, repairing the problem cannot cost more than a month’s rent.  

Landlord’s ability to access the rental property, tenant’s protections against retaliation, other notable protections

There are a number of additional notable protections under Iowa law for tenants, including the following:

  • Landlords must provide 24 hours' notice prior to entering their tenant’s residence;
  • Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants for exercising their legal rights, such as raising an issue with unsafe living conditions;
  • Landlords must follow certain processes when their tenants abandon property at their rental units;
  • Tenants have special protections when they have been victims of domestic assault;
  • Fair housing rights, including but not limited to housing discrimination.

Evictions in Iowa

Landlords can evict tenants in Iowa for many different reasons, not just failure to pay rent or breaking your lease contract. However, under Iowa law, tenants have a number of defenses they can raise to challenge these evictions.  

What are the grounds for eviction in Iowa?  

Iowa has adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant act which regulates the relationship between landlords and their tenants. Included within the act are rules and regulations regarding the process landlords need to take to evict a tenant. The two most common reasons for eviction are failure to pay rent and violation of the lease agreement by the tenant. There are different notice requirements depending on the reason for the eviction by the landlord.  

What are the notice requirements for failing to pay (nonpayment of) rent?  

The single most common reason a landlord will evict tenants in Iowa is for failure to pay rent. As soon as rent is late, but prior to filing an eviction action with the court, the landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice. This notice must state that the tenant has three days to pay rent or face termination of their lease. If the tenant does not pay rent within the three-day period, the landlord will then be able to terminate the lease and begin the eviction proceedings against the tenant. See Iowa Code 562A.27(2) for more information regarding this process.  

What are the notice requirements for a lease violation?  

A landlord can also evict a tenant for violating their lease or rental agreement/contract. As soon as a landlord finds out about a lease violation, the landlord can give the tenant a seven-day notice. The notice must state that the tenant has seven days to correct the violation or the tenant will face termination of their lease. After that notice is delivered to the tenant, the tenant will need to correct the issue within that seven-day period. Otherwise, the landlord can terminate the lease and begin the eviction proceedings.  

Should the tenant fix the violation within the seven-day period, the tenant can remain in the lease. However, if the tenant then violates the lease in the same way again within six months, the landlord has the right to give the tenant a seven-day notice stating that the lease will terminate at the end of the seven-day period. At that point, the landlord will be able to begin the eviction proceedings against the tenant even if the tenant has corrected the violation. See Iowa Code 562A.27(1) for more information regarding this process.  

What should I expect during the eviction process?  

After the time frame has ended for the tenant following the landlord’s notice, the landlord may file a petition with the district court to begin eviction proceedings. This is also called a forcible entry and detainer suit. The clerk of court will set a hearing date and send notice to both the landlord and tenant regarding the date and time for the hearing. Should the tenant want to challenge the eviction, they must attend the hearing. At the hearing the judge will hear arguments from both the landlord and tenant regarding the grounds for the eviction and make a decision as to whether the eviction can happen. See Iowa Code 648.5 for more information regarding this process.  

Often times, the tenant may find that challenging the eviction isn’t always the best option. In some instances, should the tenant fight the case and lose, they will have to pay the landlord’s court and attorney’s fees. The tenant can also receive a significant hit to their credit rating, harming their ability to find a place to live in the future. Often times, the best option for the tenant is to negotiate an agreement with the landlord outside of the court room. This can often happen through a process called mediation.  

What are defenses a tenant can raise in an eviction?  

There are a number of defenses available under Iowa law that a tenant can raise during an eviction. These defenses may be able to help the tenant stay in their rental.  

What if my landlord tries to evict me without a court proceeding?  

The only way a landlord can evict a tenant is by going to court and getting a court order allowing the eviction to occur. Iowa law makes it illegal for landlords to attempt to force a tenant out of a rental property through any other means, such as changing locks, shutting off utilities or sending people to physically kick you out. This type of eviction is often called a “self-help” eviction or an “unlawful ouster.” Should a landlord try to evict a tenant with any of these actions, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages and repossession of the rental property. See Iowa Code 562A.26 for more information regarding this defense.  

What if the landlord improperly evicts the tenant?  

It is very important for a landlord to follow all the rules outlined in the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act when attempting to evict one of their tenants. If a landlord doesn’t follow the proper procedures, a court could rule that the eviction is invalid. For example, if the landlord does not give the tenant proper notice (three or seven days typically) before filing the eviction action, the eviction lawsuit will likely be dismissed by the court. If the tenant continues to not pay rent, the landlord can still give proper notice then file a new eviction lawsuit.  

It is important here to understand that the landlord’s failure to follow the proper procedures doesn’t mean they cannot evict you. It merely delays the process until the landlord follows the proper procedures. The eviction will proceed once all rules and regulations are properly followed by the landlord.  

What are a tenant’s defenses for not paying rent?  

There are two main defenses a tenant can use to defend a landlord’s action against them for failure to pay rent.  

If Tenant pays rent in full  

As noted previously, a landlord is required to give their tenant a three-day notice prior to filing an eviction with the court. The tenant then has three days to pay the rent in full to prevent termination of the lease. Should the tenant pay rent in full within those three days, the landlord cannot file an eviction suit. See Iowa Code 562A.27(2) for more information regarding this defense.  

Should the tenant try to pay the rent in full, it is important to get a receipt with a time stamp in order to prove that rent was paid in full within that three-day period. This will prevent the landlord from filing an eviction suit and falsely claiming you did not pay within the three-day period.  

What if the landlord did not maintain the rental unit?  

A landlord is required to maintain their rental units to the minimum standards set out by Iowa law. According to the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, the landlord is, at a minimum, required to:  

  • Keep the rental fit and habitable;  
  • Keep all common areas clean and safe;  
  • Comply with all building and housing codes affecting health and safety;  
  • Provide trash bins and trash removal;  
  • Maintain all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and any other appliances the landlord has agreed to supply to the rental unit (including elevators);  
  • Supply running water and hot water; and  
  • Supply heat.  

See Iowa Code 562A.15  

If the rental unit needs repair or maintenance to address one of the above areas, the tenant must notify the landlord in writing of the issue in need of maintenance/repair. The tenant must give the landlord at least seven days to make the repair. If they fail to make the repair within that seven-day period, the tenant has a number of options to remediate the issues.  

If a landlord attempts to evict the tenant for taking measures to remediate the issues with their residence, the tenant can defend against the eviction by showing that the landlord failed to maintain the rental unit pursuant to Iowa code. The court may require the tenant to pay rent to the court during the proceeding. Then, the court will make a decision as to who will receive the rental payment at the end of the suit. See Iowa Code 562A.24 for more information regarding this process.  

What if a landlord evicts the tenant for a lease violation?  

As previously noted, the landlord is required to give the tenant seven days to correct the violation or pay for any damages caused by the tenant’s lease violation. If the tenant does correct the violation within that period, the landlord cannot file the eviction suit with the court. It is very important to keep documented evidence of what the violation was, how it was remediated, and when it was remediated. If the landlord files the eviction anyway, the tenant can use the documented evidence from the correction of the violation as defense of the eviction.  

Remember, as noted previously, if you receive a second notice for the same violation within six months, the landlord can evict a tenant without allowing the tenant to remediate the issue.  

What if the landlord discriminates against the tenant?  

Federal law, specifically the Fair Housing Act, makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, gender, nationality, familial status (children, pregnancy, etc.), and disability. In addition, under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on any of these characteristics of the tenant(s), the tenant can raise the issue of discrimination in the eviction proceeding as a defense.  

2020-21 – Coronavirus protections for Tenants and Landlords

In December 2020, Governor Kim Reynolds announced a new $9 million program created through the CARES Act to provide for rental payment assistance to low-income Iowans facing eviction and assistance to transition homeless Iowans back to housing. This program was launched as an effort to help those facing home insecurities due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

This new program was named the Emergency Solutions Grant Program and went live December 7th. It is separate and distinct from the Iowa Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program launched during the spring/summer which had also addressed similar issues. This program will take applicants through September 2022 or until money runs out.  

Examples of assistance available through this program includes rent/utility payments, including arrears, legal assistance, application fees, security and utility deposits, moving costs, case management and credit repair. All of this financial assistance is paid directly to the landlords and service providers.  

Do I qualify? How do I apply?  

To qualify for rental assistance under this new program, a tenant must meet the following criteria:  

  • Have a household income at or below the 50% mark for median income of their county;
  • Demonstrate that you have been “economically impacted” by the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic;
  • Provide a copy of your written lease with their landlord as well as a notice of eviction;  
  • Undergo a screening by regional partner agencies.  

Application for these funds needs to occur after the tenant has received notice for nonpayment from their landlord.  

Who does this program benefit?  

The Governor’s announcement of this additional supplemental funding for rental assistance is beneficial both to landlords and tenants. The government assistance provided is being paid directly from the government to the landlords. Tenants benefit by avoiding eviction/non-payment and having their landlords off their backs.  

It is encouraged that landlords and property managers provide information of this program to tenants struggling to make rent, encouraging them to apply. With the pandemic causing many tenants and potential tenants to struggle financially, it may be beneficial for all involved for a landlord to keep their tenants and accept payments from these programs.  

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