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Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Iowa

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In a Nutshell

Landlords in Iowa can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Iowa.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated December 13, 2021

It’s stressful to deal with an eviction. Your home is at risk, and you might believe that you don’t have rights. Fortunately, the Iowa code includes protections for tenants who are facing eviction. This article covers Iowa’s eviction laws and how these laws can help you defend your rights. If you’re facing a potential eviction, owe rent, or have a lease that’s expiring, you may find this article useful.

What Is Eviction? 

Eviction is the legal procedure landlords use to make a tenant leave a rental property. Before a landlord can evict you, they must provide an eviction notice that explains why they want you to leave. Usually, the landlord must give you a certain number of days to solve the problem. If you don’t solve the problem by the time the eviction notice runs out, the landlord needs to get a court order to make you leave the property using eviction.

If the landlord makes you leave without a court order, they have committed an illegal eviction, sometimes called an illegal lockout.

Iowa has five kinds of evictions, which this article will explain.

Who Can Be Evicted in Iowa?

To be evicted, you must have a landlord-tenant relationship. A tenant is someone who rents a property by agreement with the property’s owner. This is usually formalized in a lease or rental agreement. If someone lives with you, they can also be evicted, even if they aren’t on the lease.

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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Iowa? 

There are three primary reasons you can face eviction. The first is for nonpayment of rent. This could mean you didn’t pay all of your rent, you’re late on your rent, or you haven’t paid rent at all for a while. You also might face eviction if you violate the terms of the rental agreement beyond not paying rent. An example of this is having a pet that isn’t permitted. Finally, you can face eviction if your lease expires and you don’t vacate.

The eviction process is generally the same regardless of the reason. But the amount of time you have to leave before the landlord seeks an eviction order from the court may vary based on the cause.

Late, Short, or Behind on Rent? 

You can face eviction if you owe any rent, even if you’re a day late. In this case, the landlord must give you three days’ notice to pay the rent or vacate.

Lease Expiration or Termination

Iowa’s landlord-tenant law permits landlords to bring eviction cases when the lease expires or is terminated. In both cases, the landlord basically says that you don’t have a right to live in the rental unit, even if you’re up to date on rent.

When the lease expires, the landlord must still give you notice before starting eviction proceedings. The amount of notice will depend on the type of tenancy:

  • For week-to-week leases, the landlord must give you 10 days’ notice to leave or face eviction. 

  • Month-to-month leases require a 30-day notice. 

  • Longer leases, such as yearlong leases, also require a 30-day notice. 

In these situations, after the first notice period expires, the landlord must give an additional three days’ notice before filing an eviction.

A lease termination differs from expiration. Your landlord can terminate your lease if you violate the lease agreement. They must give you notice and the amount of notice they’re required to give depends on the violation.

  • If the tenant violates health or safety laws on the property, the landlord must give the tenant seven days to fix the issue or leave. If the tenant fails to resolve the issue after seven days, the landlord must provide an additional notice that says the tenant has three days to leave the property before the landlord proceeds with the eviction.

  • If the tenant commits an illegal act on the property, the landlord needs to give the tenant three days to leave or face eviction.

  • With other violations of the lease, the landlord needs to give the tenant seven days’ notice to fix the issue or leave. The written notice needs to list the precise lease violation. If the tenant fixes the problem but then performs the same lease violations within six months, the landlord can pursue an eviction with a seven-day notice and no right to cure or fix the issue. 

The Iowa Eviction Process 

This section explains how eviction proceedings work under Iowa’s laws. Understanding the complex process can help you protect your rights.

What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?

To seek an eviction in court, Iowa landlords must first give tenants a written notice that explains how much time they have before they must leave and whether they have a right to fix (cure) the problem.

  • For the nonpayment of rent, tenants have three days to pay the rent or leave.

  • For health and building violations, tenants have seven days to cure the problem. If they don’t cure it, they have another three days to leave.

  • For illegal activity, tenants have three days to vacate and no right to cure.

  • With all other lease violations, tenants have seven days to cure the violation or leave. If they cure the issue and violate the lease again within six months, the landlord just needs to give the tenant seven days’ notice to leave after the second violation. They don’t have to give a right to cure.

  • With week-to-week leases, the landlord needs to provide a 10-day notice to leave if they don’t want to continue the tenancy. For month-to-month leases or leases with a longer term than a month, landlords must give 30 days’ notice. If tenants stay beyond these notice periods, the landlord must provide an additional three-day notice. In these instances, the notice could be provided before the lease expires.

  • If the lease expires and the tenant stays, the landlord needs to provide notice in accordance with the original length of a lease. So if someone stays after a yearlong lease expires, the landlord needs to provide 30 days’ notice.

What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court? 

Once the notice expires, the landlord has to go to court to request a detainer warrant. Then the landlord must serve you with a summons that has the court date. They can serve you in any of the following ways:

  • Have someone give you the summons in person.

  • Have the summons given to someone over age 18 at the property.

  • Get someone to provide the summons to one of your family members.

  • Arrange for someone to post the summons in an obvious place on the property and mail the summons to you using certified and first-class mail.

Whoever serves you can’t be involved in the case. The eviction hearing must occur within eight days of the landlord filing the complaint, and they should serve you the summons at least three days before the court date. 

You can fill out an answer with your defenses before the trial, but you don’t have to. Filing an answer entails filling out forms with the court that contain what defenses you will raise. You can also just raise these defenses at the hearing. These defenses explain why you shouldn’t be evicted. You can also bring counterclaims, where you present reasons why the landlord owes you money.

Under any circumstance, you should go to the hearing. If you fail to attend, the landlord will get a default judgment from the court. This means they receive a court order to evict you just because you didn’t go to the eviction hearing.

Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims

When you provide an answer, whether it’s written or oral, you’ll be able to defend yourself by bringing affirmative defenses and counterclaims. At the eviction proceeding, you should provide evidence that supports your defense. Affirmative defenses are reasons why you shouldn’t be evicted, such as:

  • The property has safety violations.

  • Your landlord is discriminating against you.

  • Your landlord wants to evict you because you complained about problems in the apartment.

  • Your landlord didn’t give you proper notice.

  • Your landlord’s claims are wrong.

You can also bring forth counterclaims, where you sue for damages. If you win a counterclaim, it won’t prevent the eviction. But it can help you get money that the landlord owes you or lower the amount that you need to pay. These claims typically deal with issues about rent.

What Happens After an Eviction Trial?

If the landlord wins at trial, the court will issue a judgment at the hearing. This is known as a writ of assistance or a writ of possession. The tenant will have three days to move out. If they don’t move out within this time, the tenant will be forced out by law enforcement.

If you want to file an appeal, you must do so within 20 days of the judgment. The court can help you figure out the necessary forms to file with the right court. When you appeal, you’ll explain why you believe the ruling was inaccurate.

Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Iowa

In addition to knowing Iowa’s eviction laws, you can take practical steps to it easier to deal with the eviction or to prevent it altogether.

  • Gather evidence that supports your argument about the property. This might involve documents that prove you paid the rent or photos and videos that demonstrate the state of the property. It might also be a good idea to bring in a building inspector to produce a report about the unit.

  • If you can’t attend an eviction hearing, you should contact the court and see if they can move the date. If they can’t, you should ask how to stop a default judgment.

  • If you pay rent to stop an eviction, make sure you get a receipt so you have proof of payment.

  • Keep in contact with your landlord throughout your tenancy and deal with any problems right away. This can prevent things from escalating to the point of eviction. Even if you ultimately have to move out, you want to avoid being evicted because having an eviction on your record can make it difficult to get a rental in the future.

  • Similarly, if you’re being evicted, you should try to negotiate with your landlord or their attorney to drop the lawsuit. You may be able to do so by offering to move out within a certain time frame. Make sure you get any agreement in writing. Sign it and have your landlord or their representative sign it, too.

  • Reach out to a tenant’s rights lawyer if you have additional questions, want legal advice, or feel you can’t handle the process on your own.

Tenant Resources in Iowa

Iowa Legal Aid may be able to provide free or low-cost legal advice. They also have information on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including information on rental assistance.

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