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Housing
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Leases
When you rent your first apartment, one of the first questions that you should ask is whether the landlord requires a lease. Leases are usually for six-month or one-year periods. The advantage of a lease is that your landlord cannot tell you to move out of the leased premises within a six-month or one-year period unless you have specifically violated a provision of the lease or failed to pay your rent. The disadvantage of having a lease is that if you choose to move out early, before the lease period has expired, you may be required to pay the remaining months due on your lease. Often the landlord can get someone else to move into the apartment and this would release you from your obligation to pay the remaining months of the lease. If the landlord is not able to get somebody to take over your lease, you will be required to pay for those remaining months. If you sign a lease with roommates and one of your roommates moves out, you will be responsible for finding another roommate or making up the difference in the rent.

If you do not have a lease offered to you by the landlord, you become a tenant at will or month-to-month tenant. You are a tenant at will for only thirty-day periods. The advantage to being a tenant at will is that you are not under the constraints of fulfilling a year-long lease. Therefore, if you were a tenant at will and desired to leave a rental unit shortly after renting it, you would need to provide thirty days written notice that you were leaving the premises. The disadvantage of being a tenant at will is that a landlord is only required to give you thirty days notice that they desire you to leave the premises. Without a lease you do not have any way of binding the landlord to a rental agreement. However, as a tenant at will, the landlord is still bound by the obligations under the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Law pertaining to tenants at will.

Terms of Leases
A rental agreement may include such provisions as the amount of rent, terms of the agreement, and other rights and obligations of the landlord and tenant. A rental agreement may not include:
1. Tenant’s agreement to waive rights and remedies under the landlord and tenant law.

2. Tenant authorizing to confess judgment on a claim arising out of the rental agreement.
3. Tenant’s agreement to pay the other party’s attorney fees.

4. Agreement to indemnify the landlord for any liability or accidents that occur on the property.

Rental Deposits
Moving In
A landlord can only ask for a prepaid rental deposit that equals less than two months of rent.

Moving Out
Prior to moving out of an apartment, you should notify the landlord in writing of your new address. The landlord then has 30 days from the date of the termination of your tenancy and receipt of that mailing address to return to you a rental deposit or give you a written statement why your rental deposit or portions of it are not being returned to you. A landlord can hold part of your rental deposit for the following:
1. Past due rent that you are in default on;
2. The amount of money that it would take to restore the apartment to its condition at the commencement of the tenancy excluding ordinary wear and tear; and
3. Expenses incurred by a landlord when you do not surrender the premises in good faith.

If a landlord does not return your rental deposit or you disagree with the landlord’s statement of why portions were deducted from your rental deposit, then you should consult an attorney. That attorney can be privately retained or if you meet certain income guidelines, you can acquire an attorney from the Legal Services Corporation in your area.

Tenant Obligations
The tenant is obligated to:
  • Keep the premises and all heating, plumbing, and other facilities in clean and safe condition as the premises permit;
  • Not deliberately or negligently destroy, damage, remove a part of the premises or knowingly permit a person to do so; and
  • Act in a manner that will disturb a neighbor's peaceful enjoyment of the premises.
Landlord Obligations
A landlord may adopt rules for their tenants as long as they are for the purpose of convenience, safety or welfare of the tenants, and are applied to all tenants in a fair manner.

A landlord must call at least 24 hours in advance when they need access to the tenant's premises. Only in an emergency may a landlord enter a tenant's premises without 24 hours notice.

A landlord must maintain the premises in a fit and safe manner which would require that they do the following:
  • Comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes affecting health and safety.
  • Put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.
  • Keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition.
  • Maintain in safe working order electrical, plumbing, heating and other facilities required to be supplied by the landlord.
  • Supply running water and reasonable heat at all times.
Eviction
A landlord can evict a tenant in the following circumstances:
  • When, with or without a lease, a tenant fails to pay the rent.
  • When there is a material non-compliance by the tenant with the rental agreement.
  • When there is non-compliance by the tenant which materially affects health and safety of other tenants.
A tenant who does not have a lease can be evicted from the premises in the following situations:
  • The tenant has failed to maintain the premises materially affecting the health and safety of others.
  • The tenant has failed to timely pay the rent.
  • The tenant through his/her actions has created a clear and present danger to the other tenants by doing one or more of the following:
    • Physically assaulting or threatening to physically assault another individual on the premises.
    • Possession and illegal use of firearms.
    • Possessing controlled substance other than a prescription drug.
A tenant who does have a lease can be evicted from the premises if any of the above situations occur as well as when the tenant fails to comply with one or more provisions of the lease and fails to remedy the situation after a 30 day written notice from the landlord.

Forcible Entry and Detainer
Non-compliance with the lease or failure to maintain health and safety - The tenant must be given a 30 day written notice of the tenant's noncompliance with the lease and/or the tenant's failure to maintain health and safety. If the tenant can correct the non-compliance within that 30-day period then the landlord cannot terminate the tenancy. If the tenant does not correct the situation within the 30-day period then the landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice to quit before the landlord can terminate the tenancy.

When Rent is Unpaid
If a tenant fails to pay their rent in a timely manner then a landlord must give the tenant written notice of the tenant’s failure to pay the rent. If after three days the tenant still has not paid the rent the landlord may begin termination proceedings.

Consult an Attorney
If your landlord has begun termination proceedings then you should contact an attorney to make sure that your rights are not being violated. If you cannot afford an attorney then contact your local Legal Services organization.

The Iowa State Bar Association • 625 East Court Avenue • Des Moines, IA 50309
Ph. (515) 243-3179 • Fax (515) 243-2511
Email: isba@iowabar.org