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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.
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.
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.
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 casereview is not a matter of right.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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If you're heading away, but your vehicle will stay, refresh yourself on the details of this rule and avoid being towed and fines.
As temperatures take a nose dive, take precautions to keep household pipes from freezing and avoid damage to your home and belongings.
Ready or not, it'll be here before we know it. Know what your responsibilities are so that all people have access to your neighborhood's sidewalks for getting around. Also, learn what to do when the City declares a snow emergency, as on-street parking will be limited to allow plows to fully clear the streets after an extreme winter storm.
Source: Iowa City Update - Your source for Iowa City news and information.
General Tips For Finding An Apartment
Start Looking Early: The process for finding apartments starts early. The following are possible resources for finding available properties:
- Local Newspapers
- University of Iowa Off Campus Housing Listing website.
- Friends or classmates are often aware of possible vacancies.
- Bulletin boards in laundromats, etc., may have rental postings.
- Websites such as www.craigslist.com and www.facebook.com. However, DO NOT rent or agree to rent a property without seeing it first.
Precautions to keep in mind: NEVER RENT A LIVING UNIT WITHOUT FIRST TOURING THE EXACT UNIT YOU WILL BE RENTING. The amount of rent and other provisions in the lease, as well as the physical condition of the unit are key factors in determining whether to sign a lease. Before you even start looking, you should determine what your housing budget will be and stick to that amount . You do not want to get into a situation where you cannot afford your rent. Be aware of the length of the lease agreement you are signing. Most landlords offer a lease for a full year; in the Iowa City area they typically begin on August 1 and end starting late July.
When your are looking for an apartment, you should also investigate the reputation of the landlord and manager concerning maintenance, return of security deposits and genera relationships with tenants. Look at the locks on the doors and windows, and the lighting around the apartment to evaluate the security of the apartment against theft. Consider the quality and the age of the construction and insulation as it will affect the cost of heating and cooling: Iowa City generally has hot summers and cold winters. Current and former tenants are good sources of information, as are neighbors. Ask lots of questions when looking at the property, find out what the average utilities are, and go visit the property at night to see if you feel safe in the neighborhood and if the area around the property is well lit. Check out "rate your landlord" websites: www.apartmentratings.com, www.apartmentreviews.com, and www.ratemyapartment.com.
Finally, before you sign a lease, Consider Signing a Roommate Contract
It is extremely important that you and your roommates are clear on your expectations. It is beneficial to all tenants to spell out your individual responsibilities in a roommate contract. By providing written documentation of each roommates responsibilities to each other, a roommate contract can help avoid disputes later on and help ensure that all roommates contribute equally to household tasks and cleaning of the apartment. Fill out your own roommate contract.
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