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Consumer's Guide to Fair Housing

Click below to view a PDF of the State of Iowa's Consumer's Guide to Fair Housing:

A Consumer's Guide to Fair Housing

A Consumer's Guide to Fair Housing is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A joint project of the Governor's Developmental Disability Council, Iowa Civil Rights Commission, Iowa Division of Person with Disabilities, Iowa Legal Aid, Iowa Program for Assistive Technology, and the University of Iowa School of Law; with editorial and design support from the Center for Disabilities and Development, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Small Claims Guide

Small claims court was created to provide citizens with a low-cost, simple process for resolving civil disputes involving small amounts of money. The applicable Iowa laws may be found in Iowa Code chapter 631.

A small claims case is a civil action for a money judgment in which the amount in controversy is $5000 or less. An action for forcible entry and detainer arising out of a landlord tenant dispute can be brought in small claims court. In small claims court, cases are tried before a judge, not a jury, and without strict regard to technicalities of rules of procedure. There are easy to complete forms for small claims available on this website, with links to the forms and instrucions at the top of this page.

Start a Small Claims Case

To begin a small claims case, review the "Instructions for Pro Se Users " from the Iowa Bar.  You will then be able to choose and download the appropriate small claims Original Notice form available on this website. Once you complete the form, you must go to Iowa Courts E-filing website, create an account to become a registered user, and file the form in PDF format. You must also pay an $85 filing fee. There may be an additional cost for having the petition served on the other party.

Defending a Small Claims Case

If you have received an Original Notice naming you as a defendant, review the Instructions for a Defendant available through the Iowa Bar. Download a small claims Appearance and Answer form from this website. If you believe you also have a claim against the person suing you, you may file a small claims Counter Claim by using a form available on the same site. Once you complete the form, you must go to Iowa Courts E-filing website, create an account to become a registered user, and file the form in PDF format.  There is no fee for filing an answer. If you do not file an answer, you risk the chance of having the court enter a default judgment against you.

Court Hearing

If the other party has entered a timely answer or defaulted (not answered), the clerk will assign a case to the court calendar for hearing. The clerk shall transmit the case file to the judge assigned to hear the case. A magistrate, district associate judge, or district court judge may hear the case. Judicial magistrates hear most small claims cases. Small claims hearings shall be simple and informal. Follow the Tips for Representing Yourself on this website.

Hearings are not recorded by a certified court reporter unless the party provides the reporter at the party's own expense. At the magistrate's discretion the hearing may be electronically recorded by other means.

Failure to Appear at Hearing

Unless good cause to the contrary is shown, if parties fail to appear at the time of the hearing the claim shall be dismissed without prejudice. If the plaintiff fails to appear, but the defendant appears, the claim shall be dismissed with prejudice. If the plaintiff appears, but the defendant does not, judgment shall be rendered against the defendant.

Using a Lawyer for Small Claims

Some litigants in small claims court choose to have a lawyer, though it is not required. If you do want to have an attorney represent you in court, but want some assistance preparing your case you might consider retaining a lawyer for an hour or so to look over your case and point out strong and weak points.

Default Judgment

If a defendant fails to appear and the clerk of court determines proper notice was given, judgment shall be rendered against the defendant by the clerk of court if the relief is readily ascertainable. If the relief is not readily ascertainable, a judge shall render judgment.

Setting Aside a Default Judgment

A defendant may ask the court to set aside a default judgment for good cause, including mistake, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect, or unavoidable casualty. A motion to set aside a default judgment must be filed promptly after the discovery of the grounds, but not more than sixty days after entry of the judgment.

Appeal

If you are unhappy with the decision in the case, you may appeal. To appeal you must:

  • Either tell the judge at the conclusion of the hearing that you want to appeal, or file a written notice of appeal with the clerk within twenty days after the decision is rendered.
  • Pay the docket fee to the clerk of court within twenty days after the decision is rendered.

If a magistrate decided the original action, a district associate or district court judge will hear the appeal. If a district associate judge heard the original action, a district court judge shall decide the appeal. And if a district court judge heard the original action, another district court judge shall decide the appeal.

The appeal shall be heard upon the record without taking additional evidence. If the original action was recorded electronically, the tape recording or other medium shall be the record on appeal.
If you are not pleased with the outcome of the appeal, you may ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review the case. In small claims cases, however, the supreme court has discretion to decide if it will review the case—review is not a matter of right.

Resources for Moving Out

Illegal Lease Provisions

Automatic Carpet Cleaning Provisions:

Lease provisions that require the tenant to pay for carpet cleaning at the end of a lease, regardless of actual damage, are illegal and unenforceable.  This is true even if you have already signed the lease agreement.

A landlord cannot make you pay for carpet cleaning automatically.  The landlord must prove the carpet needs to be professionally cleaned to put the apartment in the condition in which you received it. This means the landlord can make you pay to clean up stains from spilled drinks or pets, but the landlord cannot force you to use a specific cleaning service or company. 

If you already signed a lease with an automatic carpet cleaning provision, here's what you can do:
-Write your landlord a letter saying the provision is illegal, consider including the links at the bottom of this article for reference.  By informing your landlord about the illegal nature of these provisions, you could negotiate with your landlord instead of going to court after the landlord has taken money from your security deposit.  Even if you do end up in court, your letter could serve as evidence showing the landlord acted in bad faith (they knew they were acting illegally) and this may make them liable for punitive damages to you worth up to two months rent.  
-Vacuum and clean your carpets before you leave, then take a video of you wiping a clean white cloth across the carpet and hold up the cloth to show it isn't dirty.  This can serve as evidence in court that your carpet did not require professional carpet cleaning. 

News stories:

http://www.kwwl.com/story/25047791/2014/03/22/judge-rules-iowa-city-apartment-lease-clauses-illegal

http://www.clintonherald.com/ianews/x334205579/Judge-Iowa-City-rental-lease-clauses-are-illegal

http://ctrei.blogspot.com/2014/03/illegal-rental-clauses-that-could-land.html

http://qctimes.com/news/local/judge-iowa-city-rental-lease-clauses-are-illegal/article_abb35962-b10d-11e3-abb7-001a4bcf887a.html

Iowa cases:

http://www.ictenantsclassaction.com/DeStefanoORDERDistrictCourt.pdf

http://www.ictenantsclassaction.com/BarkalowOrderSumDecJudg2.pdf

No-Pet Provisions and Fines

Even if your lease has a no-pet provision, the landlord cannot impose a fine without showing specific damage. 

“Iowa Code § 562A.12(3) requires a landlord to provide the tenant with a specific reason for withholding any of the rental deposit, and also requires the landlord to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the reason for withholding any of the rental deposit, with ordinary wear and tear excepted.”

A lease provision that requires automatic fines for having a pet in a unit is illegal because the landlord is required to prove there is specific damage to the unit as a result of the tenant keeping a pet. The District Court in Johnson County has held that a landlord is not entitled to impose fines or deduct from the deposit without showing actual damage caused by having the pet. See:

http://www.ictenantsclassaction.com/BorerDistrictCourtRuling.pdf

Resources for Moving Out

Living In the Apartment

Repairs

You should notify the landlord of all necessary repairs in writing, making sure to date the notice and to keep a copy for your records.

Before you can terminate a lease because of a landlord's failure to make repairs, you must follow required legal procedures. Please make an appointment to discuss these procedures with an attorney in our office.

Living in the Apartment: Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords and Tenants

The Iowa UNIFORM RESIDENTIAL LANDLORD AND TENANT LAW is codified in the code of Iowa, chapter 562A. This law, in addition to your lease, spells out your responsibilities as a tenant, the landlord’s responsibilities, and what a landlord or a tenant can do if the other is not living up to their responsibilities. As a tenant, during the terms of your lease, you are required to follow the terms of your lease, including paying rent. Furthermore, even if it is not in the lease, the law requires tenants to:

  1. Comply with all obligations primarily imposed upon tenants by applicable provisions of building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety.
  2. Keep that part of the premises that the tenant occupies and uses as clean and safe as the condition of the premises permit.
  3. Dispose from the tenant's dwelling unit all ashes, rubbish, garbage, and other waste in a clean and safe manner.
  4. Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits.
  5. Use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances including elevators in the premises.
  6. Not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove a part of the premises or knowingly permit a person to do so.
  7. Act in a manner that will not disturb a neighbor's peaceful enjoyment of the premises. (This can include noise.)

During the term of the lease, beyond anything written in the lease, the law requires the landlord to:

  • Comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety.
  • Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.
  • Keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition. The landlord shall not be liable for any injury caused by any objects or materials which belong to or which have been placed by a tenant in the common areas of the premises used by the tenant.
  • Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord.
  • Provide and maintain appropriate receptacles and conveniences, accessible to all tenants, for the central collection and removal of ashes, garbage, rubbish, and other waste incidental to the occupancy of the dwelling unit and arrange for their removal.
  • Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times and reasonable heat, except where the building that includes the dwelling unit is not required by law to be equipped for that purpose, or the dwelling unit is so constructed that heat or hot water is generated by an installation within the exclusive control of the tenant and supplied by a direct public utility connection.

A tenant must allow a landlord to have reasonable access to the apartment to make repairs and allow the landlord to show the apartment to potential future tenants. Unless there is a real emergency, the landlord must always obtain the tenants consent to enter the apartment and give the tenant 24 hours notice before entering.

As a tenant, you can comply with the law by keeping your apartment reasonably clean and not damaging the apartment.

Quick Tip: Be careful about what you put down the drains. If you put something inappropriate down the drains, and it backs up and damage to the apartment occurs, a landlord may be able to charge you for it. Watch out for potato skins and other hard organic matter that won’t biodegrade, even through a garbage disposal. These are notorious for clogging drains.

If either a tenant or a landlord is not living up to their obligations under the lease or the law, they may give the other party a seven day notice letter. This is a letter that tells the tenant or the landlord what the problem is, and that if it isn't fixed within 7 days, the lease will terminate.

You may also be evicted for creating a clear and present danger at your apartment. This usually refers to crime. Also, many leases have what is called a crime free addendum, meaning any crime committed at your apartment by you or someone you invited there is a violation of your lease. Know your lease, and be careful!

If you believe your landlord is not living up to their responsibilities under the law, or if the landlord accuses you of not living up to your responsibilities as a tenant, make an appointment with student legal services by calling 319-353-2242.

Illegal Conduct in Your Apartment

What could happen if your roommates are engaging in illegal conduct such as using or selling drugs, providing alcohol to minors, etc. in your apartment? 

  • The roommates' behavior could result in criminal charges against you, even if you are not directly involved in the illegal activities.  Therefore, you should take immediate action.
  • You should immediately notify your roommates that you do not consent to their illegal activity and want them to immediately stop engaging in those activities.  You should state that the illegal activities could result in eviction by the landlord, as well as criminal convictions.  You should be clear that if the behavior does not stop, you will notify the landlord as well as the police.  The notice should be given in writing, either by e-mail or mail, and you should make sure to save the notice for your records.
  • If the behavior does not stop, you may choose to give notice of the illegal activities to the landlord or the police.  If the landlord refuses to take action to stop the illegal activities, you should contact Student Legal Services to discuss how you can legally terminate the lease and move out of your apartment. 
  • If you report the illegal activities to the police, they could obtain a search warrant to search your residence.  If they discover illegal activities, the parties involved could be arrested and charged with criminal offenses.  If convicted, the person could be ordered to pay large fines and/or serve time in jail or prison.  Drug related convictions could result in the loss of student loans and could bar the person from gaining certain types of employment. 

Resources for Moving Out

Renters Insurance

Renters Insurance

If you think renters insurance is not necessary, you are sadly mistaken. Even though you may not own the home, apartment or unit, you do own the property that is inside of the home. If your items are lost or stolen, your home floods or catches on fire, or some other unforeseen accident occurs, you will need to replace those items with your own money. These items are things you purchased over the years, but when disaster strikes, you do not have years to replace your personal property, especially your everyday necessities. It could be really expensive to replace your personal items, which is why you should protect your investments. When it pertains to protecting your personal property, renters insurance is your most affordable option. 

To find out more information about renters insurance, visit The Zebra's website.

For more information on why renters insurance is important, visit the NOLO website

Resources for Moving Out Miscellaneous

Rental Deposits

You probably already know what you should do to get your rental deposit back after your lease ends. It's a good idea to take date-stamped pictures of any existing damage when you move in, clean up thoroughly before you leave, and leave the landlord an address or instructions for where to send the returned rental deposit.  However, there are other things you should know about your rental deposit. 

In Iowa, Chapter 562A of the Iowa Code is the relevant law in landlord-tenant issues.  It's known as the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act.  You can find the full text of it here: http://www.lawserver.com/law/state/iowa/ia-code/iowa_code_chapter_562a

Rental deposits are discussed in Section 562A.12, available here: http://www.lawserver.com/law/state/iowa/ia-code/iowa_code_562a-12

You can read 562A.12 for a full understanding of the laws covering rental deposits.  Otherwise, the summary below covers the main issues.

Amount of deposit

A landlord cannot demand a rental deposit larger than two months' rent [562A.12(1)].

Return of the deposit

A landlord must return the remaining deposit to you within 30 days of the end of the lease, as long as the landlord has a mailing address or return instructions from you.  The landlord must include a written note detailing the specific amounts and reasons for any deductions made.  If the deposit is withheld to repair the property, the statement must specify the nature of the damages [562A.12(3)(a)].

If a landlord fails to return the deposit and a written statement detailing the deductions within 30 days of the end of the lease and receiving a mailing address, a tenant can recover the entire rental deposit from the landlord [562A.12(4)].  Tenants can do this by filing in small claims court, and tenants can recover the cost of filing a claim in small claims court ($85) if the judge sides with the tenant and orders the return of the deposit [562A.12(8)].  Note: even if a tenant recovers the entire deposit, the landlord can still bill the tenant for damages and other deductions that would have been taken from the deposit. 

If the landlord is not given a mailing address or return instructions for the deposit within one year of the end of the lease, the tenant will have forfeited their right to the deposit and the landlord can keep the entire amount [562A.12(4)] 

Reasons a landlord may deduct from the deposit

A landlord may make deductions from the deposit for a few reasons.  The rental deposit can be used to remedy a tenant's failure to pay rent or other costs like utilities [562A.12(3)(a)(1)].  The landlord can use the deposit to recover expenses incurred in forcing a tenant to surrender the premises at the end of a lease [562A.12(3)(a)(3)].  Most likely, the deposit will be used to restore the property to its condition at the beginning of the lease, excluding ordinary wear and tear [562A.12(3)(a)(2)].  This means the landlord can withhold the deposit if you damage the property, but not if the damage was a result of the normal and ordinary use of the premises.  For example, it's legal for your landlord to charge you for carpet cleaning to remove stains from pets or spilled drinks. It's not legal for your landlord to force you to pay for professional carpet cleaning for just normal wear on the carpet. In fact, the recent case of DeStefano v Apartments Downtown decided that automatic carpet cleaning lease agreements are unenforceable.  

In a case concerning the rental deposit, the landlord has to prove the reasons for withholding the deposit [562A.12(3)(b)].  If the landlord retains portions of the deposit in bad faith, the landlord will be subject to potential punitive damages amounting to no more than two months’ rent in addition to actual damages [562A.12(7)].  This means if the landlord knew the deduction was illegal, the tenant can recover the deduction AND up to two months' rent as a legal punishment to the landlord.   

If you think your landlord will violate the law in using or returning your deposit, tell your landlord about it in writing and feel free to cite this article or 562A.12.  By informing your landlord about the law, it will make it more likely that a judge would rule the landlord acted in bad faith.  Plus, it might help you avoid going to court in the first place by negotiating with your landlord instead. 

Remember, this is just a basic explanation of the Rental Deposits section of the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act.  If you have any questions about this entry, or are worried your lease/landlord may be in violation of the Act, contact Student Legal Services!

Resources for Moving Out