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Iowa eviction process

Last updated: Apr 29, 2015

What’s the deal with evictions in Iowa?

Nobody ever said it’s easy being a landlord. Sometimes, it might feel like you’re up to your knees in — well, you know. Hopefully, the reality is that you aren’t up to your knees in “it,” but one landlord in Albia found himself in this exact predicament, literally, when his tenants repeatedly complained of sewage backing up and flooding the basement of the house they were renting.

Apparently, the landlord’s remedy wasn’t enough, so they decided to withhold rent payments until the drains were properly fixed. When no repairs or changes were made, the tenants paid the city to inspect the building, which didn’t end well for the landlord.

While the tenants were technically in the right because this type of maintenance is the landlord’s responsibility, and the city found that the property was in violation of several health and safety codes, ultimately the landlord was able to successfully evict the tenants from the property. How? Well, the tenants never informed him (in writing) that they’d be withholding their rent.

While you’d likely hold your property and practices to a higher standard than the previously mentioned landlord, but there may still come a time when you will have to evict a tenant from your property. In such a case, there will likely be some gray area to work through. Read on to learn more about the process, limits, and legal requirements of evictions.

What are some reasons I can evict a tenant?

In Iowa, there are several reasonable examples of when you can evict a tenant:

  • Unpaid rent (without prior written notice of reasons to withhold)
  • Lease violation
  • Tenant has created, or invited a guest to create, a “clear and present danger”

The first two reasons are pretty straightforward, but what defines “clear and present danger” (and we’re not talking about the 1994 Harrison Ford blockbuster)? Simply put, a clear and present danger is any act or condition that puts neighbors, the landlord, or any employees in some sort of danger. This may include the threat or act of physical violence, illegal possession or use of a firearm, or possession of illegal drugs.

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Are there situations in which I cannot evict a tenant?

As it relates to the case mentioned in our introduction, the tenants in Albia wouldn’t have been evicted had they paid closer attention to the law when they refused to pay their rent. That is to say that tenants cannot be evicted as a form of retaliation. In other words, evictions may be illegal in the following situations:

  • If a tenant has complained to the landlord about unsafe or illegal living conditions
  • If a tenant  has complained to state or city health or building inspectors
  • If a tenant, or tenants, who have joined or formed a tenants’ union

It is ultimately the responsibility of the landlord to maintain a safe and structurally sound property, and to provide burden of proof that any evictions are not based on that. In Albia, for example, while the tenants would have otherwise had the law on their side because the landlord failed to produce safe and sanitary living conditions, they failed to properly inform the landlord that they would be withholding rent until the sewage problem was corrected. Then, it was not a matter of retaliation because the landlord could legally evict them for non-payment of rent.

What is the process normally like?

Before we take a look at the legal proceedings for removing a tenant from a property, it’s important to remember that court cases cost valuable time and money. If possible, try to find a way to settle out of court. If that’s not an option, then this is what you can expect from an eviction case.

Before we proceed, please note that so-called “self-help” evictions (i.e. changing the locks on their tenants) are illegal. In order to legally evict a tenant, you must carefully follow Iowa property laws, by filing and serving relevant notices to the tenants regarding their tenancy.

  1. Give the tenant a written notice or warning. Depending on the offense, there are several appropriate notices to serve the tenant, including: as they relate to  reasons to evict stated earlier:
    • 3-day notice for non-payment of rent and “clear and present danger”
    • 7-day notice for lease violation or termination
    • 30-day termination notice
  2. Waive the notice if the tenant has cured the lease violation or paid back due rent within the notice period. If the problem occurs again within  6-months of the initial notice, the landlord may issue a 7-day termination notice. If the violation occurs outside of 6 months,  a new notice may be issued.
  3. To proceed with an eviction, notify the tenant no fewer than three days before the hearing date that the case will be taken to small claims court. The case will be postponed otherwise. The notice can be served by hand, certified mail, or by posting the notice to their door.
  4. Both the landlord and tenant will have the opportunity to present their case in front of a judge. It’s always a good idea to have a lawyer representing your case, because the strength of it isn’t necessarily determined by serving tenants with the correct notice. Most of it depends on the facts presented.
  5. In the event that you win your case, the judge may order the tenants to vacate the property immediately, but that is uncommon. More often than not, tenants are given a few days to gather their belongings before they move out. The grace period may depend on the availability of the sheriff, who will oversee the removal of the tenant and their belongings.
  6. Should the judge rule in favor of the tenant, and once the request to evict has been dismissed, the landlord may file a new eviction case once they have served the proper notice again.

Where can I learn more?

If you have any questions, or think you may want to start the eviction process with a tenant in Iowa, please consult a lawyer.

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Disclaimer: The materials on this database provide general information related to the law and are intended to provide a layman’s summary of the law. The information provided does not constitute legal advice and the manager of this database is not a law firm. These materials are intended, but cannot be promised or guaranteed to be current, complete or up-to-date. All of the information offered are intended for general informational purposes only. You should not act or rely on any of the information contained on this database without first seeking the advice of a qualified attorney.

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