The Iowa rental application form is a document that landlords send out to a prospective tenant to collect information. The application asks questions that relate to rental history, eviction history, and financial information which is used to choose a tenant.
Iowa Laws on Rental Application Fees
In Iowa, there is no limit or maximum rental application fee a landlord can charge a prospective tenant. It’s advised to not charge more than the average out-of-pocket expense, but ultimately the determination of the fee is at the sole discretion of the landlord.
Additionally, security deposits do not have a cap or maximum amount set by Iowa state law, but cities and counties may impose their own limits. There is no requirement for landlords to provide a written receipt of a security deposit; however, security deposits must be held in a federally insured financial institution such as a bank, credit union, or savings and loan association. This needs to be separate from the landlord’s personal funds.
What Iowa Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (Having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
Asking about any of these items on an Iowa rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is illegal. Iowa does not have any additional state protected classes.
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Iowa, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Familial Status – a landlord may ask for and collect the age of applicants to use in a leasing determination in any two-family owner-occupied buildings.
- Age – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-restricted communities. This federal exemption, known as the Housing for Older Persons Exemption, can apply to registered senior communities that meet the requirements.
- Owner Occupied Properties– dwellings with four units or less where one unit is occupied by the owner are exempt from Fair Housing Laws, unless a real estate agent represents the landlord. This is also known as the Mrs. Murphy Exemption.
- Religious Organizations – religious beliefs can be used as a basis for giving preference to certain applicants for property that is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent for commercial purposes. However, other protected classes may not be the basis for making a decision as a result of this exemption. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Private Clubs – private clubs operating without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for lodgings owned or operated by the club. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
Consent for Background Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself, or via a separate consent form (such as this one).
Processing a Rental Application
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check:
- Credit Check– subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check– an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check– a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
Iowa Eviction Record Search
Iowa landlords who are looking to complete an eviction record search can choose between using a third-party service, or finding the information manually using the public court records.
To find the records manually:
- Access the Iowa Courts Online Search (Trial Courts).
- Enter the potential tenant’s name to view any existing records.
- Select the case number to view any available information on the case. A more detailed summary may be found by selecting ‘Filings’ at the top of the case record. Some information may require the creation of an online search subscription, which costs $25 per month.
Adverse Action Notices
If you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e., credit, eviction or criminal history) and take an “adverse action” against them such as any of the following:
- Rejecting the applicant
- Requiring a co-signer (when they didn’t include one before)
- Requiring a larger security deposit
- Requiring higher rent
Then you are legally required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”. This is required even if the consumer report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for the action.
The notice must include details about the consumer reporting agency, an explanation that they didn’t take the adverse action themselves (and can’t explain why it was made) and a statement on the applicant’s right to a copy of the report and to dispute its contents within 60 days. Additionally, when rejecting an applicant, it’s recommended to specify the reason (but not legally required).
For an example, see this tenant rejection letter template.