Iowa law requires that a rental lease agreement be in writing for it to be fixed term or it is a month-to-month lease. If you have an oral lease that you intended to be for a year, for example, and the tenant vacates early, you are barred from recovering any deficiency in the rent.
Also, all leased premises located in any municipality with a population of at least 15,000 residents must be licensed and certified in that city as well as comply with local ordinances. If you have any rental units in Des Moines, any apartment or condo is inspected every 24-months or sooner. If no certificate is obtained, the unit cannot be legally rented though a landlord could recover the market value of the rent for that unit but no due and owing rent may be recovered if it was a fixed term lease that had not yet expired.
You do face a fine of up to $500 if your Des Moines rental premises is not licensed or certified.
Landlords have certain obligations to applicants and to current tenants. Pursuant to state and federal housing laws, you may not refuse to rent to anyone based on race, color, gender, creed, religion, national origin, familial status, or mental or physical disability. You can deny an applicant if their references or credit history is poor, or they have a history of prior evictions, a criminal conviction or lack sufficient income.
You may not increase a tenant’s rent, terminate or not renew a rental lease agreement within one year of a tenant who had submitted a complaint about the premises or about you to a government authority, or brought a claim against you for negligence or exercised some other right including joining a tenant’s union.
A landlord’s obligations include the following:
- Maintain the premises in a fit and habitable condition
- Comply with building and housing codes affecting the tenant’s safety and health
- Unless it is the responsibility of the tenant, provide running and hot water and heat
- Keep common areas clean and free of garbage
- Provide garbage receptacles
- Provide and maintain appliances, plumbing, wiring, heating and air conditioning in good condition
A tenant’s duties are fairly basic:
- Comply with housing and building codes
- Properly dispose of garbage
- Maintain the unit in a sanitary and clean condition
- Properly use all appliances
- Do not damage, alter or modify any part of the premises
- Obey the law
- Do not disturb the right of other tenants to the quiet enjoyment of their own units
- Advise landlord of an absence of more than 14-days
Contents of the Lease
There are certain terms you should include in your Iowa residential lease agreement as well as optional ones that you might consider:
- Name of landlord and property manager who is authorized to manage the property, address where rent is to be paid and where request for repairs are to be directed
- Names of the tenants and other occupants—have all adult tenants sign the lease
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease—weekly, yearly or other—if oral, it can only be a monthly lease
- Amount of rent, due date, and grace period—late fees may only be $12 per day if the rent is $700 per month or less and no more than $60; for higher rents, it can be $20 per day and no more than $100 for that month
- Returned check fees—state amount
- Security deposit—no more than 2-month’s rent, no interest required, funds to be deposited in a federally insured financial institution; return funds within 30-days of tenant vacating unit and receiving notice of forwarding address or to last known address; or send written statement with specific reasons for withholding by mail with return receipt requested—recommend you have a mutual inspection of the premises shortly before or after tenant vacates
- Signed, separate statement of the premises’ move-in condition including list of current damages to be given to tenant and signed by tenant after inspecting premises (not required but recommended)
- Obligations of landlord regarding repairs and maintenance and of services provided as indicated above
- Obligations of tenant as noted above—you may include rules of conduct or others that are for the convenience, peace, safety and welfare of all the tenants
- Responsibility for utilities
- Major appliances that are being provided
- No commercial, business or unlawful use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance or is unlawful
- Pet clause—may limit type of pet, weight and require tenant to clean up pet waste in common areas; ask for deposit
- Subletting clause
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs, inspect, supply necessary or agreed to services, and show to future tenants, contractors or purchasers of the unit—24-hours’ notice is required and at reasonable times though you may enter immediately if it is an emergency that threatens the health or safety of tenants and can be remedied by repairs
- Notices regarding termination for nonpayment of rent, other lease violations
- Notice for increasing rent—30 days for a monthly lease (may not be for a discriminatory or retaliatory purpose)
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both of you must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
Be sure that you research and are aware of any terms, or different terms, that are required by the municipality where your rental unit is located.
Prohibited Terms in a Lease
The rental lease agreement may not contain certain provisions since they conflict with state laws. These include:
- Waiving the right to sue or to seek damages against the landlord
- Confessing judgment on a claim arising out of the lease
- Consent to pay landlord’s attorney’s fees
- Limiting landlord’s liability
- Conditions under which a security deposit becomes nonrefundable
- Incentives for early payment of rent
- Increasing the rent in a fixed term lease before it expires
- Mandatory cleaning deposit
An Iowa landlord can demand up to 2-month’s rent as a security deposit. The funds have to be deposited in an FDIC institution, though not in an interest bearing account, and the account must be in trust with the tenant. If interest is earned, however, the first 5 years of interest is for the benefit of the landlord with the following 5 years to the tenant.
Security deposits are to pay for damage to a unit that is not normal wear and tear and may be used by the landlord to cover unpaid rent after the tenant vacates the premises.
Though not required, you should provide the tenant with a move-in checklist so that any existing damage is known to both of you and so any dispute when the tenant vacates is minimized.
When the tenant does vacate the residence, you have to return the deposit within 30-days to the tenant’s forwarding address or to the last known address. If you wish to withhold any portion, then submit an itemized list with damages and cost to the tenant before the 30-day period expires.
Should you not give the itemized list to the tenant or return the deposit on time, you may not retain any part of the deposit and you may be subject to damages of $200 plus attorney’s fees if the tenant brings a court action to recover the deposit.
Termination of the Lease
A fixed term lease will expire on its own and will become a month-to-month if the tenant remains and tenders the following month’s rent. Either you or the tenant may terminate a lease for term without cause by giving 30-days’ written notice before the term expires. The same 30-day notice applies to monthly leases as well.
For nonpayment of rent, you can wait until your grace period of 4 days, in most cases,expires and then send a 3-Day Notice to Quit that has the following content:
- Tenant has 3 days to cure the nonpayment by paying the full rent due along with late fees—state the amount due
- The tenancy will terminate if the rent is not paid within 3 days
- As an alternative to paying, the tenant may vacate the unit within the 3 days
You can include as part of the rent due any costs incurred in having to repair the unit for damages caused by the tenant in the previous month. Should your notice have the incorrect amounts, the entire notice is invalid. You do have to accept the rent that is paid within the 3-day period but not partial payments.
If you fail to serve the notice and the tenant remains in the unit for the next 30-days, you likely forfeit your right to evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent even if the tenant pays the full rent for the following month.
Clear and Present Danger
There are circumstances where a “clear and present danger” allows you to serve a 3-Day Notice to Quit along with Notice of Termination. Clear and present danger includes:
- Unlawful use of a firearm
- Threat to use a firearm or other dangerous weapon
- Possession of an illegal firearm
- Unlawful possession of a controlled substance
- Physical assault by the tenant
- Threat of physical assault by the tenant
- Other activities under Iowa statutes—7-day notice for other dangerous activities
You can also serve a 7-Day Notice if the tenant refuses you entry or entry to any other authorized persons or changes the locks.
Your notice(s) must cite the specific activity that the tenant engaged in. However, there are exemptions if the tenant shows that a third party was responsible for any of the clear and present dangers. The notice you send to the tenant must advise that the tenant has certain remedies if a third party was the one engaged in the clear and present dangerous activities.
The remedies that the tenant may use to remain on the premises are:
- Submit a police report indicating that another party was the responsible
- Obtain a protective or restraining order against the perpetrator
- Send a letter to the perpetrator requesting the individual to stay away and provide copy to police
- File an action for trespass against the perpetrator
If any of these remedies are used, you have to allow the tenant to remain for that month at least. If the tenant engaged in these activities or chose not to use any of these remedies, then you have cause to evict the tenant.
Under the Servicemembers Relief Act, a tenant who is a member of the Armed or any of the uniformed services can terminate a fixed term lease or any other lease if the tenant receives deployment orders to move more than 35 miles from the premises for more than 90 days or is ordered to reside in government quarters and a copy of the orders is given to the landlord. The tenant is required to give 30-days’ notice if practical and to pay for the remainder of that month’s rent but with no further obligations under the lease.
Constructive Eviction in Iowa
Under circumstances where the unit or premises becomes uninhabitable because of some action or inaction by the landlord such as not providing essential services, changing the locks or refusing to fix conditions materially affecting the health or safety of the tenant, then the tenant may opt to terminate the rent. The tenant must first send written notice of the condition to the landlord and a request to remedy it within a reasonable period.
If it is not done, the tenant must vacate the residence and may not be liable for any further rent.
Withhold Rent and Repair
If there are necessary repairs to be done, the tenant must give you written notice and a reasonable time to perform them. The repairs must concern a matter regarding the health or safety of the tenant such as heat, electricity, rodent infestation, broken refrigerator or plumbing system or otherwise violates either the rental agreement or Iowa law. If you do not do the repairs within what is considered a reasonable period, the tenant may choose to deduct the cost of the repair from the rent so long as it is not more than one month’s rent.
For repairs that are more expensive, the tenant may have a building inspector review the problem and order you to fix it. If you refuse, a court can fine you and the tenant may be permitted to vacate the unit. Another remedy is for the tenant to sue you, remain in the unit, and have a jury or judge decide if the repairs are necessary.
Iowa residential lease agreements can be complicated and involve complex issues of law if certain problems or disputes arise. If you have any questions regarding your lease or your or your tenant’s rights and obligations under the law, contact an Iowa landlord/tenant attorney.