A landlord can evict a tenant in Iowa for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are failing to pay rent or violating the lease or rental agreement. The tenant may have at least one defense available with which to challenge the eviction.
This article will examine the most common grounds for eviction in Iowa, along with their corresponding defenses.
Iowa has adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act to govern the relationship between a landlord and a tenant. The act sets forth all the rules and regulations landlords and tenants must following when renting property, including when and how a landlord can evict a tenant. The two most common reasons for eviction are tenant failure to pay rent and violation of the lease. Before starting an eviction lawsuit with the court, the landlord must give the tenant notice. The notice requirements are different depending on whether the landlord is trying to evict the tenant for not paying rent or for violating the lease.
The most common reason a landlord might try to evict a tenant is if the tenant fails to pay rent. As soon as rent is late but before filing the eviction lawsuit with the court, the landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice. The notice must state that the tenant has three days to either pay rent or the lease will terminate. If the tenant does not pay rent within the three-day time period, the landlord can terminate the lease and begin eviction proceedings against the tenant (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.27(2)).
A landlord can also evict a tenant for violating the lease or rental agreement. As soon as the landlord finds out about a lease violation, the landlord can give the tenant a seven-day notice. This notice must state that the tenant has seven days to correct the violation or the lease will terminate. If the tenant does not correct the violation within seven days, the landlord can terminate the lease and begin eviction proceedings against the tenant.
If the tenant does correct the violation but then commits the same violation within six months, the landlord can give the tenant a seven-day notice that just states the lease will terminate at the end of seven days. The landlord can then begin eviction proceedings against the tenant, even if the tenant has corrected the violation (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.27(1)).
After the appropriate time frame has ended and the tenant has not complied with the notice, the landlord can file a petition with the district court to begin an eviction lawsuit, also called a forcible entry and detainer suit. The clerk of the court will set a hearing and send notice to both the landlord and the tenant regarding the date and time for the hearing. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must attend the hearing. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and will come to a final decision regarding the eviction (see Iowa Code Ann. § 648.5).
The tenant may find that challenging the eviction is not always the best option. The tenant might have to pay the landlord's court and attorney's fees if unsuccessful in court. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating and could be turned down for future housing. The best option for the tenant might be to try to talk to the landlord and negotiate a deal outside the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate.com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.
There are several defenses a tenant could use against an eviction for failing to pay rent or violating the lease.
The only way a landlord can evict a tenant is by going to court and getting a court order allowing the eviction to occur. Iowa has specifically made it illegal for a landlord to attempt to force a tenant out of a rental property through any other means, such as changing the locks or shutting off the utilities to the property. This type of eviction is often called a "self-help" eviction or an unlawful ouster. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant with a "self-help" eviction, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages and repossession of the rental property (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.26). For more information on the topic, see the article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Iowa, published by Nolo.
A landlord must carefully follow all the rules set forth in the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act when attempting to evict a tenant. If the landlord does not follow proper procedures, the eviction could be invalid. For example, the landlord is required to give the tenant a three-day notice before filing an eviction lawsuit for failure to pay rent. If the landlord does not give the tenant any notice and just goes straight to court, the tenant can use lack of notice as a defense to the lawsuit. The eviction lawsuit would likely be dismissed, and the landlord would be required to give the tenant a proper three-day notice. If the tenant still does not pay rent, the landlord can then file a new eviction lawsuit with the court. The eviction would then proceed as normal.
Keep in mind that this type of eviction will not stop a justified eviction completely. It will simply delay it. Once the landlord fixes the deficient procedures, the eviction will proceed.
A tenant who is being evicted for not paying rent may have a defense to the eviction.
A landlord is required to give the tenant a three-day notice before filing an eviction lawsuit with the court. The tenant will then have three days to pay the rent in full, or the lease will terminate. If the tenant pays the rent in full during those three days, the landlord must not file the eviction lawsuit (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.27(2)).
If paying rent because of a three-day notice, the tenant should ask the landlord for a time-stamped receipt. Then, if the landlord files the lawsuit anyway, the tenant can use the receipt as proof that the rent was paid during the appropriate time frame.
A landlord with rental property in Iowa is required to maintain the rental property according to minimum standards set forth by the law. According to the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, the landlord is required, at a minimum, to:
See Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.15.
If the tenant finds that the rental unit needs repair or maintenance in one of these areas, the tenant must first notify the landlord in writing of the repair or maintenance needed. The tenant must give the landlord at least seven days to make the repair. If the landlord does not make the repair or maintenance within seven days, the tenant can terminate the lease and move out of the rental property (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.21).
If the landlord fails to supply the tenant with running water, heat, or another essential service, then the tenant has a few options available:
Keep in mind that the tenant can only pursue one of these options per instance of the landlord's failure to maintain the rental unit (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.23).
If the landlord attempts to evict the tenant after the tenant fails to pay rent or pays reduced rent, the tenant can defend against the eviction by showing that the landlord failed to maintain the rental unit according to the law. The court may require the tenant to pay rent to the court during the proceedings. Then, the court will determine who should receive the rent at the end of the lawsuit (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.24).
For more information on this topic, see the Nolo article Iowa Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or "Repair and Deduct."
Before evicting a tenant for a lease violation, the landlord is required to give the tenant seven days to correct the violation or pay for any damages caused by the violation. If the tenant corrects the violation within seven days, the landlord must not file the eviction lawsuit with the court. If the landlord files the eviction lawsuit anyway, the tenant can use proof that the violation was corrected or paid for as a defense against the eviction.
Remember that if this is the second notice for the same violation within a six-month period, the landlord is not required to give the tenant any time to fix the violation. At the end of the seven-day notice period, the landlord can go ahead and file the eviction lawsuit, even if the tenant corrects the violation (see Iowa Code Ann. § 562A.27(1)).
The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. In addition, the Iowa Civil Rights Act also makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on any of these characteristics, the tenant can use the discrimination as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.
Legal aid organizations, such as Iowa Legal Aid, can provide legal assistance to those who qualify based on income. In addition, Iowa Legal Aid provides online information for housing topics, available to all. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.
Eviction lawsuits are filed with the district court of the county in which the rental property is located. To locate your district court, visit the online directory maintained by the Iowa Judicial Branch.
If you have more specific legal questions about your eviction case or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you are confident of your case and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.
For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.
Also check out Nolo's Lawyer Directory for Iowa lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.
For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant's Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).