Iowa Residential Landlord and Tenant Law

My first trial and appeal while I was in law school was my own landlord tenant case. We moved from our house to an apartment in Iowa City. We soon found the apartment was infested with cockroaches. our landlord entered our apartment without notice, refused to return our security deposit without cause and used and attempted to enforce illegal lease provisions. We lost the case at trial and won the case on appeal.

Unfortunately, many tenants are unaware of their rights or know their rights, but do not know the procedure to get relief.

Cockroaches, bed bugs and rodents can be serious problems in rental property. Many landlords now include lease provisions allowing the landlord to charge the tenant for extermination of pests, regardless of whether the tenant was actually responsible for the infestation. For example, tenants are charged even though the landlord already had a bed bug problem in the building before the tenant moved in. The law allows the TENANT to recover damages–instead the landlord illegally charges the tenant for extermination.

The Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tennant Law provides tenants with rights and responsibilities in a landlord tenant agreement.

Illegal Lease Provisions

A rental agreement shall not provide that the landlord or tenant;

  • Waive or forego its rights or responsibilities as defined by the Iowa Landlord and Tenant Law
  • Agree to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees
  • Unlawfully waive or limit a landlord’s liability

Rental Deposits

When withholding security deposits from a tenant the landlord must comply with the following laws; failure to do so will result in an unlawful retention of the security deposit.

  • A landlord must within thirty days from the date of termination of the tenancy and receipt of the tenant’s mailing address or delivery instructions, return the rental deposit to the tenant or furnish a written statement showing the specific reason(s) for withholding all or a portion of the security deposit. If the deposit is not returned or a written statement furnished the landlord has no right to withhold any of the security deposit.
  • A landlord cannot demand a security deposit in excess of two months rent.
  • The security deposit must be held in a separate account and cannot be mixed with the personal funds of the landlord.
  • The landlord may only use the security deposit to remedy a tenant’s default in the payment of rent or return the dwelling to its condition at the commencement of the tenancy, ordinary wear and tear excluded.
  • A landlord is not a law enforcement agency; it may not impose “fines” for objectionable conduct.

Landlord to Maintain Fit Premises

A landlord must…

  • Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition
  • Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord.
  • Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times
  • Comply with all requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety

In order to protect your rights, be sure to provide notices to the landlord in writing for habitability issues and repairs. If you are going to terminate the lease for habitability issues, make sure the issue materially effects health or safety or are material violations of the rental agreement. Iowa Code section 562A.21 sets out notice requirements that should be strictly followed.

Access

  • A landlord must provide 24 hours notice prior to entering the rental unit at reasonable times
  • The landlord cannot abuse the right of access to harass the tenant
  • The landlord may enter a rental unit in cases of emergency.

Unlawful Eviction

  • A landlord cannot unlawfully lock a tenant out of his/her rental unit or shut off electric, gas, water or other essential services to the tenant.
  • Prior to eviction for tenant’s noncompliance with lawful provisions of the rental agreement a landlord must provide the tenant with 7 days written notice.
  • A landlord may only terminate a rental agreement for nonpayment of rent 3 days after written notice from the landlord.
  • A police officer may not assist a landlord in evicting a tenant without judicial process.

Retaliation

A landlord may not retaliate by increasing rent or decreasing services or by threatening to bring action for possession after…

  • The tenant has complained to a governmental agency responsible for enforcement of building or housing code.
  • The tenant has complained to the landlord for a violation of the Iowa landlord tenant act.