Before undertaking to evict a tenant, an Iowa landlord must be aware of the necessary steps in the Iowa eviction process. Trying to force a tenant out of a rental property by nonjudicial means could result in the landlord having to pay significant damages to the tenant.
These nonjudicial methods, also called self-eviction, includes denying the tenant access to the unit, removing the tenant’s personal belongings, shutting off essential services or threatening the tenant if he or she does not leave.
By adhering to the eviction process in Iowa, a landlord may end a rental agreement before its expiration if the tenant fails to pay the rent, does not comply with a material provision in the lease or commits a continuing nuisance or presents a clear and present danger to the landlord or other tenants.
3-Day Notice to Quit
The Iowa eviction notice for nonpayment of rent is 3 days. In these situations, the written notice must advise the tenant of the amount due and any other fees or sums owed and that the lease will be terminated unless payment is made within 3 full days after the notice is served. The notice is served after the day the rent is due. Also, the first day is not counted towards the compliance period.
A landlord may accept a partial rent payment by giving the tenant a written grace period to pay the remainder. If the tenant does not pay the due amount by the end of the grace period, the landlord may proceed with the next step in the Iowa eviction process without the need for another notice.
Also, if the tenant has been given a previous 3-Day Notice to Quit for nonpayment of rent, the landlord need not give the tenant the opportunity to pay the entire amount due within the compliance period.
The 3-day Iowa eviction notice is also used where the tenant has created a clear and present danger to the landlord. This notice advises the tenant that he or she must vacate the property and that no compliance or remedy is possible. A clear and present danger may be verifiable threats of violence against the landlord or other tenants, illegal use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon or possession of a controlled substance.
The landlord must prove the “clear and present danger” by use of affidavits from witnesses but a police report verifying the danger may be sufficient.
7-Day Notice to Quit
Where the reason for the eviction is other than nonpayment of rent or for presenting a clear and present danger, the Iowa eviction notice is 7 days. This notice must state the specific lease provision that has been violated and that the tenant may cure the violation such as by paying for damages caused by the tenant or by removing unauthorized pets or tenants within the 7 day period or the lease will be terminated.
In cases of month-to-month tenancies, the landlord need only give a 30-day notice without a reason for the eviction.
Service of Notice
Service of an Iowa eviction notice may be performed by the landlord or representative by:
- Personal delivery to the tenant.
- To an adult living in the unit and obtaining a signature confirming receipt.
- By posting the notice on the unit door and sending the notice by certified and regular mail. If done in this manner, the notice period begins 4 days after the mail is postmarked.
Forcible Entry and Detainer Action
Should the tenant not pay the total rent, vacate the premises or cure the rental agreement violation, the next step in the Iowa eviction process is for the landlord to start a court action called Forcible Entry and Detainer (F.E.D.). This is an action for possession only and the landlord must initiate a separate action for any damages or back rent owed.
The landlord must present a copy of the served notice and a return of service to the court clerk before filing the F.E.D. Once filed, the hearing may be scheduled very quickly so long as the tenant is given at least 3 full days between the service of the action and the hearing date.
A landlord bringing an F.E.D. must be careful in what the suit alleges, If the landlord is alleging damages in the F.E.D., the tenant can request that the action be treated as a money judgment so that an answer is due 20 days after service of the F.E.D. with a hearing scheduled several weeks later. This can slow the eviction process considerably.
Should the tenant fail to appear, the landlord can gain immediate possession of the property after waiting 3 days and obtaining a Writ of Removal to be served on the tenant.
If the tenant does appear and offers to pay the entire rent, the landlord may accept it and dismiss the action but he or she is under no obligation to do so.
The parties may also enter into a stipulated F.E.D. whereby a new hearing date is scheduled to give the tenant time to pay what is owed or to cure the violation. If the tenant fails to do so, the landlord is given immediate possession.
If the landlord prevails, the court will issue an Order of Possession and the tenant must vacate the property. If the tenant does not vacate after 3 days, the landlord must obtain the Writ of Removal to be given to the sheriff for service, which also notes the date the tenant must be out or the sheriff will return and remove the tenant’s possessions and the tenant.
An eviction may be contested or defended by a tenant who can present any of the following defenses, if applicable:
- Landlord’s breach of implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. All leases in Iowa have an implied promise that the landlord will interfere with the tenant’s right to enjoy the property. By not remedying a dangerous condition or by performing some act that interferes with the tenant’s right to a fit and habitable premises, the court may permit a tenant to vacate with no further obligations or to pay a reduced rent for the period of the breach.
- Constructive eviction. The tenant was forced to vacate the premises because the unit was unfit or uninhabitable due to the landlord’s negligence or failure to repair a dangerous or unsafe condition. A tenant must prove the unit was demonstrably unfit to live in and he or she had to leave the property after giving the landlord notice and a reasonable time to remedy the condition.
- Retaliation. The eviction was in response to the tenant having complained about the property’s condition, having joined or participated in a tenant’s rights organization or having exercised any other legal right.
- Discrimination. The tenant brought the eviction based primarily on the tenant’s family status, religion, gender, national origin, creed, sexual orientation or disability.
If the F.E.D. was just an action in possession, the landlord can obtain money damages by filing a suit either in small claims court if the amount is below a certain level, or in District Court if the alleged damages exceeds the small claims jurisdictional amount.
A tenant can be served with the separate damages action at the same time as the F.E.D. action. The tenant will have 20 days to file an Answer to the damages suit or be in default. Otherwise, a hearing will be scheduled on the issue of damages or past due rent and other sums owed.
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