Iowa Small Claims Court Process

Iowa Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: February 27, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $6,500
Deadline to File 5 years – Oral lease agreement, overdue rent

10 years – Written lease agreement

Filing Fee $95
Appeal Deadline 20 days

Small Claims Court Basics in Iowa

Small Claims Court is an informal court designed for minor cases limited to a maximum claim amount. The trial does not involve a jury. Instead, the plaintiff and defendant present their case to the judge, who makes a decision.

Common suits filed by landlords include:

  • Recovery of unpaid rent
  • Damages that exceed the amount of the security deposit
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Early termination of a lease

Common suits filed by tenants include:

  • Failure to return the security deposit correctly
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Overcharging for damages

How Long Does the Small Claims Court Process Take in Iowa?

A typical small claims case in Iowa takes two to three months, from the date of filing, but can be longer if there are problems serving the defendant, the trial is continued, or other delays occur.

How Much Can You Sue For in Small Claims Court in Iowa?

In Iowa, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $6,500.

To attempt to recover a higher amount, the suit must be filed as a civil case in the District Court.

How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claims Case in Iowa?

The time limit for filing a small claims case in Iowa depends on the type of case filed:

  • Five years: Violation of an oral lease agreement, collection of rent
  • Ten years: Violation of a written lease agreement

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Iowa?

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney. However, either party can be represented by an attorney if they so choose.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Iowa?

In Iowa, every county has a Small Claims Court. Small claims are filed in the county where the rental property is located.

To find your local court, you can use the court directory. Using the map, determine your judicial district, click the link for the corresponding district on the left, then select your county.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Iowa

Step 1: Complete the online questionnaire to prepare the court forms.

Step 2: Download your completed forms, then print and sign the:

  • Original Notice and Petition for a Money Judgment
  • Verification of Account, Identification of Judgment Debtor, and Military Certificate

Step 3: Gather any documentation that may support your case, like the lease agreement or apartment photos. Scan the signed forms with exhibits, if any. Each form and exhibit must be scanned as a separate file in black and white.

Step 4: Register for an account with Iowa’s eFiling system.

Step 5: Sign in and select New Case to file your small claim. Follow the prompts to provide your information, choose a method of service, and upload the required documents.

Step 6: Pay the filing fee.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Case in Small Claims Court in Iowa?

In Iowa, the filing fee for a small claims case is $95. There may be additional fees depending on which method of service you choose.

What if You Can’t Afford to File a Case?

You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by filing an Application and Affidavit to Defer Payment of Costs. Upload the completed document when filing your case electronically. The judge may waive the costs or allow you to pay the costs at a later date.

Small Claims Court Process in Iowa

After filing a small claims case in Iowa, the Notice and Petition is served on the defendant, and the defendant is required to file an Appearance and Answer before the case is scheduled for a trial.

Step 1: Download the court-stamped Notice and Petition and conformed Answer form. Within a few days of filing, the court will either reject your filing and instruct you to make corrections or send you a stamped Notice and Petition and Answer for service on the defendant.

Step 2: Service on the defendant. The following documents will be provided to you by email after filing and must be served on the defendant:

  • Court-stamped Notice and Petition
  • Conformed Answer

Service can be completed by:

  • Certified mail by the court clerk
  • Professional process server
  • Sheriff

Step 3: Defendant files an Appearance and Answer. In Iowa, the defendant is required to respond to the Notice and Petition by filing an Appearance and Answer within 20 days of accepting service (or 60 days if they reside out of state).

Once the defendant files their Appearance and Answer, the court clerk will schedule a trial no later than 20 days after the defendant’s filing.

If the defendant fails to file their Appearance and Answer, the judge will issue a default judgment.

Step 4: Gather witnesses. If you think it would help your case, ensure that any witnesses are available to attend the trial. For example, you may ask the apartment manager to serve as a witness to how clean you left the apartment after moving out.

You may need to subpoena a witness if you are unable to get them to attend voluntarily by asking your local court clerk to issue a Subpoena.

Step 5: Attend the trial. On the trial date, you should bring copies of any evidence you have to support your claim. The judge will give you and the defendant an opportunity to provide your arguments before they decide to dismiss the case or issue a judgment.

If the defendant does not attend the trial, the judge will issue you a default judgment.

Winning a Small Claims Judgment in Iowa

If you win the judgment in Iowa, the other party may appeal the case, you may be paid the judgment within the allotted time period, or you may need to pursue additional actions to recover the debt.

Either party can appeal the decision by telling the judge they want to appeal at the hearing or by filing a Notice of Appeal within 20 days after the issuance of the judgment.

When the judge issues the judgment, they will determine a time period for repayment. In the best case, the judgment debtor pays their debt within this period.

If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, you can recover the debt through bank or wage garnishment or property lien by filing a Notice of Execution.

You have 20 years to collect a judgment before it expires. A judgment collects interest at a rate of 2% plus the one-year treasury constant maturity index published by the Federal Reserve (6.78% for judgments entered after January 9, 2023).