Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws in Iowa

Find out key laws every Iowa landlord and tenant needs to know.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Iowa laws govern much of the landlord-tenant relationship, including security deposits, late rent, and evictions. Here's a breakdown of key laws that affect nearly all Iowa landlords and tenants.

Iowa Rental Application and Tenant Screening Laws

Iowa law doesn't regulate many aspects of the tenant application and screening process. Unlike landlords in many other states, Iowa landlords are free to charge an application fee to apply for a rental.

All landlords need to follow federal and state antidiscrimination laws when screening applicants for a rental. Federal fair housing laws prohibit landlords from discriminating on the basis of:

  • race or color
  • religion
  • national origin
  • familial status or age (includes families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women)
  • disability or handicap, and
  • sex (includes gender identity and sexual orientation).

Iowa law also bars landlords from discriminating on the basis of creed and ancestry. (Iowa Code §§ 216.8-216.8b (2024).)

For more information about Iowa's fair housing laws, check out Iowa Legal Aid's Fair Housing and Housing Discrimination website.

Iowa Security Deposit Laws

Iowa law dictates how much landlords can charge for a security deposit, how they must hold it, and when they must return it.

Iowa Maximum Security Deposit

Iowa landlords can't charge more than two months' rent for a security deposit. (Iowa Code § 562A.12(1) (2024).)

Iowa Security Deposit Holding Rules

Iowa landlords must put security deposits in a bank or savings and loan association or credit union that's insured by the federal government. The deposit can't be commingled with the landlord's personal funds. Landlords can place security deposits in an interest-bearing trust account, and may keep any interest earned during the first five years of a tenancy. (Iowa Code § 562A.12(2) (2024).)

When and How Landlords Must Return Security Deposits in Iowa

Within 30 days of when the tenancy ends and the landlord receives the tenant's forwarding mailing address, the landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant. If the landlord keeps any or all of the deposit to cover unpaid rent or damages, they must provide a written statement of the reason for withholding it. The only reasons a landlord can withhold a security deposit are:

  • to cover unpaid rent or other amounts due under the lease or rental agreement
  • to restore the rental to the condition it was in at the beginning of the tenancy, excepting normal wear and tear, and
  • to recover any expenses of having to evict a tenant.

(Iowa Code § 562A.12(3) (2024).)

If the landlord holds on to the security deposit in bad faith, the tenant might be able to sue the landlord for punitive damages of up to two times the monthly rent (along with actual damages). (Iowa Code § 562A.12(7) (2024).)

Required Landlord Disclosures in Iowa

In many states, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants and potential tenants. Iowa law requires the following disclosures:

  • Owner or agent identity. Landlords must disclose to tenants in writing at or before the beginning of the tenancy the name and address of the person authorized to manage the rental, and an owner of the rental or a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner for the receiving service of process, notices, and demands. (Iowa Code § 562A.13(1) (2024).)
  • Utilities. Unless the tenant will be paying the utility company directly, the landlord must fully explain utility rates, charges, and services to a prospective tenant before signing a lease or rental agreement. (Iowa Code § 562A.13(4) (2024).)
  • Environmental status. Landlords must disclose in writing before the tenancy begins if the property is listed in the comprehensive environmental response compensation and liability information system maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Iowa Code § 562A.13(6) (2024).)

Landlords in all states must also follow federal lead-based paint disclosure rules.

Iowa Rent Rules

Rent is due on whatever day the landlord and tenant agree to.

Late Fees

Landlords can charge tenants a fee for paying rent late. If the monthly rent is $700 or less, the late fee can't be more than $12 per day ($60 per month). If the monthly rent is greater than $700, the late fee can't be more than $20 per day ($100 per month). (Iowa Code § 562A.9(4) (2024).) Late fees should be disclosed in the lease or rental agreement—otherwise, a court might not enforce them.

Grace Periods

Iowa landlords aren't required to give tenants a rent payment grace period—rent is due on the date specified in the lease or rental agreement, and a landlord can consider it late if it's not paid on that date. However, if the lease or rental agreement gives the tenant a grace period for paying rent, the landlord must honor it.

Rent Increases

Iowa landlords can't raise the rent during the term of a lease unless the lease specifically allows them to do so.

For month-to-month tenancies, landlords can raise the rent if they give the tenant at least 30 days' written notice. (Iowa Code § 562A.13(5) (2024).)

Landlords in Iowa Must Provide Habitable Rentals

Landlords in Iowa have a duty to keep the rental and all common areas clean and in repair, fit for human habitation, and in good and safe working order. This includes:

  • complying with all applicable building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety
  • making all repairs and doing what's necessary to put and keep the rental in a fit and habitable condition
  • maintaining the electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators
  • providing receptacles for removal of garbage and waste, and
  • supplying running water and reasonable amounts of hot water except as required by law.

Landlords and tenants can agree to have the tenant take care of some of these duties, as long as the agreement is in writing, the tenant gets paid or receives some other benefit for performing the duty, and the tenant's assumption of the tasks doesn't negatively affect other tenants. (Iowa Code § 562A.15 (2024).)

Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent in Iowa

If the landlord fails to keep the rental repaired and fit for human habitation, the tenant must notify the landlord and give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. If the landlord doesn't make the repairs, the tenant has the choice of:

  • making the repairs themselves and either deducting the cost from rent or suing the landlord
  • recovering damages based on the decrease in the fair rental value of the rental, or
  • recovering any rent already paid for the period of the landlord's noncompliance.

If the tenant uses any of these remedies, the tenant won't be able to move out because of the issue (see "Tenant Rights to Terminate the Tenancy," below). (Iowa Code § 562A.23 (2024).)

Tenant Rights to Terminate the Tenancy

When there's an issue at the rental that materially affects health and safety, the tenant can give the landlord a written notice specifying what's wrong. The notice must state that if the issue isn't fixed within seven days, the tenant is terminating the tenancy. If the landlord fixes the issues before the date in the notice, the tenancy won't end.

If the problem is one that the tenant has notified the landlord of in the past six months, the tenant can terminate the tenancy with seven days' written notice and not have to give the landlord the chance to fix it again. However, if the landlord has exercised due diligence and effort to fix the problem, this remedy isn't available.

When the tenant ends the tenancy for health and safety reasons in this manner, the landlord must return all prepaid rent and any recoverable security deposit. (Iowa Code § 526A.21 (2024).)

Small Claims Lawsuits in Iowa

If you find yourself in a battle over a security deposit or repairs, small claims court is a good place to bring your grievance. Small claims courts in Iowa can hear cases in which the plaintiff—the person suing—isn't asking for more than $6,500. (Iowa Code § 631.1 (2024).) Small claims court procedures tend to be simpler than those of regular courts, and although Iowa allows parties to have lawyers, many people represent themselves.

Iowa Termination and Eviction Rules

Iowa landlords must follow very specific rules and procedures in order to terminate a tenancy and then, if necessary, file an eviction lawsuit.

Notice of Termination for Cause

A landlord who wants to evict a tenant in Iowa before the lease or rental agreement has expired must have cause—in other words, a legally valid reason to terminate the tenancy.

In Iowa, reasons to terminate the tenancy before the lease expires include:

  • failing to pay rent for three days after the due date
  • creating a danger to the landlord, other tenants, or neighbors
  • breaking a material term of the lease or rental agreement, or
  • not maintaining the rental unit in a safe and sanitary condition.

(Iowa Code §§ 562A.27, 562A.27A (2024).)

When a landlord wants a tenant to leave for one of these reasons, the landlord must first terminate the tenancy. This is done by giving the tenant notice—the type of notice depends on the situation.

  • Termination for nonpayment of rent. If the tenant fails to pay rent when it's due, the landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice to pay rent or quit (move out). If the tenant doesn't pay rent within the three days, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. (Iowa Code § 562A.27(2) (2024).)
  • Termination for creating a danger to the landlord, other tenants, or neighbors. If the tenant's actions are a "clear and present danger" to the health and safety of the landlord or anyone else within 1,000 feet of the rental, the landlord must send a three-day notice specifying the bad behavior. If the tenant doesn't move out, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. (Iowa Code § 562A.27A (2024).)
  • Termination for breach of rental agreement, or failure to maintain the rental. If the tenant breaches a material term of the rental agreement or creates a situation that materially affects health and safety, the landlord can give the tenant a seven-day notice to fix the violation. The notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has seven days to fix the violation or the tenancy will end. If the tenant doesn't fix the problem, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant commits the same violation within six months, the landlord can give the tenant another seven-day notice. This time, the landlord doesn't need to allow the tenant a chance to fix the problem. Instead, the landlord can go straight to court at the end of the seven days and file an eviction lawsuit. (Iowa Code § 562A.27(1) (2024).)

Notice of Termination Without Cause

The process for ending a tenancy without cause depends on the type of tenancy. Here's what needs to happen to end a month-to-month tenancies or a tenancy with a long-term lease.

Ending a Month-to-Month Tenancy Without Cause

If the tenant has a written month-to-month rental agreement, and the landlord wants the tenant to move out but doesn't have cause to end the tenancy, the landlord must give the tenant notice in writing at least 30 days' notice that the tenancy is ending. (Iowa Code § 562A.34 (2024).)

If the tenant doesn't move out at the end of the month, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit.

Ending a Tenancy With a Long-Term Lease Without Cause

If a landlord wants a tenant with a long-term lease (a lease with a definite end date) to move but doesn't have legal cause to end the tenancy, the landlord has to wait until the lease ends. The landlord isn't required to give the tenant any notice to move unless the terms of the lease require the landlord to do so.

If the tenant doesn't move out when the lease ends, the landlord should stop accepting rent payments and file an eviction lawsuit.

What Landlords Must Do With Tenants' Abandoned Property

After an eviction (or even after a tenant simply moves out), the landlord might find that the tenant has left behind personal property at the rental unit. If the property clearly is garbage, the landlord can throw it away.

In Iowa, landlords don't have a duty to protect or care for an evicted tenant's personal property left behind after an eviction. (Kahn v. Heritage Property Management, 584 N.W.2d 725 (Iowa App. 1998).)

However, if a tenant leaves without notice and simply abandons their property, the landlord must follow Iowa's abandoned property laws. Because procedures might vary depending on the type of property abandoned and the circumstances surrounding the abandonment, it's a good idea for a landlord to contact a local attorney for advice before removing, selling, or disposing of the property.

Tenant Defenses to Eviction

Even though a landlord might have a valid reason to evict a tenant, the tenant can still choose to fight the eviction. For example, the tenant could claim that the eviction is the result of the landlord illegally discriminating, or is in retaliation for the tenant exercising a legal right.

A tenant's decision to fight the eviction could increase the costs of the eviction, and it could result in the tenant having more time to remain in the rental. For these reasons, it's often in the best interests of both the tenant and the landlord to try to negotiate a compromise rather than head to court. Mediation is a common way for landlords and tenants to work issues out—check to see if your community has a low-cost or free housing mediation program.

Illegal Evictions

Landlords can't take self-help measures to evict a tenant. For example, Iowa landlords can't exclude the tenant from the rental by changing the locks, nor can they cut off services such as electricity, gas, water, or other essential services.

When a landlord performs an illegal eviction in this manner, the tenant can sue the landlord to either have the landlord stop their actions or to regain access to the rental. The tenant also has the option of terminating the tenancy and recovering their damages, along with punitive damages of up to two months' rent and reasonable attorneys' fees. If the tenant terminates the tenancy, the landlord must return all prepaid rent and security. (Iowa Code § 562A.26 (2024).)

Iowa Rules About Landlords' Access to Rental

Iowa law allows landlords to enter a rental in order to:

  • inspect
  • make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, decorations, alterations, or improvements
  • supply necessary or agreed-upon services, or
  • show the rental to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workers, or contractors.

Except in the case of emergency or if it's impracticable to do so, the landlord must give the tenant 24 hours' notice before entry, and must enter only at reasonable times. Landlords can always enter a rental with the tenant's consent or when there's a reasonable belief that there's imminent danger to lives or property. (Iowa Code § 562A.19 (2024).)

Where to Find Iowa Landlord-Tenant Laws

If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, start by checking citations for Iowa landlord-tenant statutes. To access the statutes themselves, visit the Iowa Legislature's website.

Local Ordinances Affecting Iowa Landlords and Tenants

Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as rent control rules, health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and anti-discrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants. Many municipalities have websites—just search for the name of a particular city in Iowa and then do a search when you're on the site.

State and Local Government on the Net and Municode (click on "Code Library" in the main menu) are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in Iowa.

Federal Landlord-Tenant Laws and Regulations

Congress and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have enacted laws and regulations that apply to the landlord-tenant relationship in Iowa. These laws and regulations address topics such as discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.

The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 53 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"). To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see the federal section of the Library of Congress's legal research site.

Nolo Resources on Legal Research and Landlord-Tenant Law

For more information on legal research, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.

You'll also find a wealth of information in Nolo's landlord-tenant books.

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