In Iowa, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Iowa varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Iowa law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Iowa
Landlord Responsibilities. One of an Iowa landlord’s primary responsibilities is to uphold their duties under the state’s warranty of habitability laws. Specifically, they must provide and maintain the following amenities within the condition-based requirements of all local health, safety, and building codes:
- Adequate plumbing
- Safe electric wiring, lighting, and outlets
- Proper sanitary facilities
- Reliable heating and air-conditioning
- Adequate indoor ventilation
- Working elevators (in multi-floored buildings)
- A garbage can (for waste removal services)
- Reasonable supply of hot and cold running water
If a problem arises with any of these amenities, then an affected Iowa tenant is able to request a timely repair from their landlord. Upon receiving such a request, an Iowa landlord has 7 days to respond and address the repair fully or else the tenant in question may have grounds to terminate their lease. If the same serious issue occurs again within a 6 month period, this tenant may immediately terminate their lease without waiting through the 7 day repair period.
Tenant Responsibilities. Tenants in Iowa are required by the state’s warranty of habitability to perform all tasks necessary for maintaining their unit in a safe and clean manner. This includes avoiding any negligent actions that may cause long-term harm to a fellow tenant or the building’s structure.
More minor issues can and should be remedied by the occupying tenant, especially if they are noted by their landlord. At that point, Iowa’s laws imply that a tenant has 7 days to cure the issue (even if it was not directly caused by their action) or face potential eviction.
Iowa also provides tenants with two essential methods of taking “alternative action” against their landlord. First, tenants who feel that their landlord has neglected their duties under the warranty of habitability can withhold rent outright. However, this action can only be taken if the withholding tenant provides 7 days of advance notice of their intent.
Along the same lines, tenants in Iowa can repair an outstanding issue on their own and deduct the associated cost from the following month’s rent. This action also requires prior notice on the tenant’s part.
Evictions in Iowa
These are the most common reasons why an Iowa landlord may choose to evict their tenant prior to the natural conclusion of their lease agreement:
- Nonpayment of rent – Rent for tenants is due on the date stated in their lease agreement (including any applicable grace period). However, if rent is not paid on that due date, an Iowa landlord may alert their tenant to their non-paying status by issuing a 3-Day Notice to Pay. If the tenant in question still does not pay after those 3 days elapse, then their landlord may continue the formal eviction process by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer suit.
- Violation of lease terms – When even a single lease violation occurs, landlords in Iowa are entitled to release a 7-Day Notice that details how the affected tenant can cure the action or behavior that caused the infraction. If the action or behavior is not changed after those 7 days elapse, then the landlord may further their plans for a formal eviction by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer suit.
- Illegal Acts – Iowa allows landlords to determine what activity (occurring within 1,000 feet of their rental property) is illegal in the context of a safe and habitable housing environment. So long as the landlord can demonstrate a “clear and present danger,” they can immediately sanction their tenant with a 3-Day Notice to Quit (Clear and Present Danger). Several example illegal activities set forth by the state include:
- Unregistered or unlicensed use or possession of a firearm
- Physical assault of another individual or tenant
- Possession of illegal drugs
Evictions without a lease. When renting on a month-to-month basis without a formal lease agreement or specific end date, tenants in Iowa must be given a 30-Day Notice to Terminate prior to their eviction. If those 30 days pass and the tenant in question fails to vacate the premises, their landlord by issue a 3-Day Notice to Quit. After those 3 days, the landlord may move on with formal eviction by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer suit.
Illegal Evictions. Explicitly discriminatory evictions in Iowa are illegal. Specifically, a tenant cannot be evicted or refused a new lease because of their race, color, age, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status, nation of origin, or disability status. Domestic abuse victims are also protected from unwarranted evictions relating solely to their status.
Iowa landlords are also prohibited from evicting a tenant as a form of retaliation. As such, tenants who make a formal complaint about the habitability of their living conditions or join a tenant union cannot be evicted solely based upon these rights-based actions.
Security Deposits in Iowa
Iowa landlords cannot collect, maintain, and redistribute security deposits in any way they see fit. Instead, they must follow these baseline requirements set forth by their state:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Iowa landlords cannot charge more than the value of 2 months’ rent as a security deposit. Iowa’s laws do not clarify whether this applies solely to standard security deposits or those specialized deposits placed for pets as well.
- Interest and Maintenance – All security deposits held by an Iowa landlord must be placed in a federally-insured banking institution and maintained in an account separate from personal funds. If that account bears interest on the deposit, all interest accrued in the first 5 years of tenancy belongs to the landlord. It is unclear who is owed any further interest dividends.
- Time Limit for Return – So long as an Iowa landlord has a tenant’s new address on hand, they are required to send along any and all security deposit funds within 30 days of the applicable lease’s conclusion. If any of those funds need to be withheld as a deduction, a written statement detailing the reasons for those deductions must also be provided in the same 30 day period.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – Failing to return a held security deposit in the 30 day period following a lease’s conclusion may cause an Iowa landlord to lose any legal claim to the funds. If their failure to return any part of their held security deposit is found to have been in bad faith, this same landlord may be forced to pay out twice the original deposit’s value as a penalty.
- Allowable Deductions – Deductions may be made from an Iowa tenant’s security deposit for one of more of the following reasons:
- Cover unpaid rent
- Repair and restore a unit that damaged in excess of regular wear and tear
- Expenses resulting from repossession of a unit that a tenant refused to vacate
Lease Termination in Iowa
Notice Requirements. Iowa tenants who have entered into a fixed end-date lease need not provide any notice prior to their agreement’s conclusion. However, tenants in lease agreements with the following rental period terms must provide the associated amount of notice before terminating their lease:
- Week-to-Week Lease – 10 days of advance notice
- Month-to-Month Lease – 30 days of advance notice
- Yearly Lease without an End Date – At least 30 days of advance notice before the start of the subsequent rental period
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. To legally break a lease early in Iowa, most tenants opt to evoke an early termination clause in their lease. However, in lieu of such a provision (because not all leases are written to include such a clause), Iowa tenants should also consider utilizing one of these other legally justified causes for early lease termination:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – A rental unit in Iowa may be considered “uninhabitable” if a landlord fails to provide or maintain one or more essential services outlined in the state’s warranty of habitability within 7 days of tenant’s request. After that repair period elapses, a tenant may consider themselves “constructively evicted,” thus making it easier to break off their lease early due to the clear health/safety hazard presented by continued tenancy.
- Landlord Harassment – Iowa landlords are always required to give 24 hours of advance notice before entering an occupied unit at a reasonable time. If either of these key provisions are broken on a regular basis, an affected tenant may claim that their landlord’s harassment constitutes a privacy violation worthy of immediately terminating their lease agreement. Similarly, even a single “lockout” by a landlord may allow a tenant to immediately terminate their lease.
- Illegal Lease Terms – In the case of a disputed early termination, a court may award an Iowa tenant the right to terminate their lease unilaterally if any applicable lease terms are found to be “unconscionable” at the time they were written into the lease.
Iowa tenants may retain some obligation to pay rent on their former unit, even if they are successfully able to terminate their lease early. This obligation can be ended by finding a new renter or sublessor for the unit in question. Landlords in Iowa are required to work in a “reasonable” manner to achieve this end so that they can “mitigate damages” from your choice to leave the lease early.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Iowa
Rent control & increases. Iowa is currently among the majority of US states that preempts any form of state or local rent control policy. As such, landlords operating in the state are free to charge as much as they want for rent without giving any justification for why rent needs to be raised.
That being said, rent can only be raised for a specific tenant after they receive notice of the impending change 30 days before it goes into effect. Rent can also not be raised any sooner than the end of the currently active lease agreement.
Rent related fees. Iowa state law limits how much a landlord can charge a tenant in terms of a late rent payment fee, both per diem and in total. Specifically, tenants who pay less than $700 in rent per month can only be charged $12 day and $60 per month as a late fee. Meanwhile, those paying more than $700 in rent can be charged $20 per day or up to $100 a month for this find of fee.
Returned check fees, on the other hand, are only subject to a single value-based limitation. To be specific, Iowa landlords cannot charge more than $30 per instance to process a bounced check provided by their tenant.
Housing Discrimination in Iowa
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. Iowa provides supplementary protections to several further classes of tenants not explicitly covered by the federal Fair Housing Act. To this end, tenants who identify with one or more of the following characteristics cannot be denied fair access to housing opportunities, both before and during the course of a lease agreement:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission handles all cases relating to discriminatory business practices in the housing industry in the Hawkeye State. Among other possible discriminatory acts, this Commission dictates that the following actions or behaviors are explicitly forbidden by the Iowa Civil Rights Act when they are directed at a protected class of applicants or tenants:
- Refusing to sell or rent
- Refusing to allow a reasonable accommodation (including service animals)
- Refusing to allow certain types of guests (even if those guests are not of a protected class)
- Representing a unit as being unavailable when it is, in fact, available
- Providing different leasing terms or conditions
- Printing or publishing advertisements that state a positive or negative preference
- Refusing to provide certain mortgaging services or information
- Coercing or intimidating tenants out of exercising their rights
Generally speaking, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission does not publish penalties applied to discrimination cases on an individualized basis. However, they have publicly published these high profile cases to give prospective applicants an idea of what kind of penalties they can hand down. Those wishing to file a complaint with this Commission can start the process here.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Iowa
Don’t miss these important Iowa landlord-tenant laws! Many of these are the subject of disagreements in regular landlord-tenant relationships, so it is important for both parties to know where they stand legally.
Landlord Entry. Landlords in Iowa are required to provide notice of their intent to enter a tenant’s unit at least 24 hours in advance of their actual incursion. Also, Iowa landlords can only enter an occupied unit at a “reasonable time,” which landlords and tenants must define in the terms of their lease agreement. Both parties should also define if different amounts of notice are needed for different types of incursions, including those relating to repairs or unit showings.
This and any other right of entry provisions do not apply in emergency situations, however. In those cases, landlords are allowed to enter a unit without any advance notice if they believe that the emergency at hand possess a direct risk to the inhabitants.
Small Claims Court. Iowa’s small claims court system is typically used as a formal venue for resolving formal disputes between landlords and tenants in that state. That being said, these courts only accept cases that are valued at $5,000 or less. This may include eviction cases, though most landlords choose instead to file eviction cases with the state’s district courts.
Small claims cases relating to a lease carry a full 10 year statute of limitations if the lease in question was written. Otherwise, an oral lease only carries an abbreviated 5 year statute of limitations.
Mandatory Disclosures. Iowa’s statutory code requires landlords operating in the state to make the following types of informational disclosures to all tenants prior to their new leases becoming active and valid:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Managers and Agents. Iowa landlords must disclose, in writing, any and all individuals certified to manage a tenant’s building over the course of their tenancy. This includes a property’s owner, as well as any agents or intermediaries certified to act on their behalf.
- Utility Rates. Prior to a lease’s execution, landlords must fully explain all utility rates, charges, and services that the tenant in question will be expected to pay. This includes differentiating between utilities paid to the landlord and those paid directly to their service provider.
- Environmental Liability. Landlords in Iowa are required to disclose whether the property upon which a tenant is about to live appears on the “comprehensive environmental response compensation and liability information system” that is published by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Changing the Locks. Iowa lacks specific statutes forbidding tenants from changing their own locks. As such, it is presumed that they are able to do so unless an applicable provision exists in their individual lease agreement. On the flip side, though, landlords in Iowa cannot unilaterally change their tenants’ locks without potentially initiating an illegal “lockout.”
Iowa Landlord-Tenant Resources
Here are just a few more resources that can help support both a tenant and landlord’s ability to understand Iowa’s statutory laws governing the housing industry:
Fair Housing Guide – This handbook, published by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, breaks down and applies all of the state’s civil rights laws that govern housing and the prevention of discrimination therein. This guide can be an excellent resource for tenants who are looking to contact either their local or state regulatory authority to report a perceived rights violation.
Small Claims Court Primer – This digital resource can help both landlords and tenants quickly understand the limitations of Iowa’s small claims court system, as well as the best ways to go about filing a case. Because this resource is on the Iowa judiciary website, readers can also use it as a definitive source for understanding the appeals and judgement process.
Legislative Guide to Landlord-Tenant Law – This guide effectively covers every dimension of landlord-tenant laws currently on the books in Iowa. Landlords, in particular, may find this guide useful because it cites every law that supports their conclusions and even includes some case law relating to disputes that established current precedents.