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Many people don't know what to do when their landlords threaten to evict them. The law protects rights of tenants. It also protects rights of landlords. Like other legal topics, issues in landlord-tenant law can be complicated. Still, most of the basic rules and steps parties must follow are fairly simple. This article takes a look at eviction law in Iowa.
The Law Does Not Allow "Self-help" Evictions
The landlord must get a court order telling the tenants to move out. A landlord cannot just lock tenants out. A landlord cannot shut off the utilities. A landlord cannot throw tenants or their personal property out without getting a court order first. This is illegal.
The court procedure to evict a tenant is called a "forcible entry and detainer." A landlord must follow very specific steps. A landlord must prove the right to take back the rented property from the tenants. If the landlord does not give the right notice, the court may dismiss the case. That means the tenants would be able to stay.
Grounds To Evict
Almost all evictions are based on one of three "grounds" (allegations).
- The tenant broke (or "violated") the lease
- The tenant created (or allowed a guest to create) a "clear and present danger"
- The tenant has not moved out (or is "holding over") after a lease ended
Notices Required Before Landlords File Eviction Cases In Court
Landlords nearly always have to give a tenant a written notice before filing an eviction case. If a landlord files an eviction without giving proper notice to the tenant, the court is likely to throw out the case at the hearing. If that happens, the landlord may give a different notice, and try again.
The notice required in each case depends on the reasons for the eviction. Different reasons need different notices. There are six common kinds of notices:
- 3-day notice of nonpayment of rent
- 3-day notice of "clear and present danger"
- 7-day notice to cure lease violations
- 7-day notice of lease termination with no right to cure
- 30-day termination notice
- 3-day notice to quit
Nonpayment Of Rent
If a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may give a written notice to the tenant. The notice has to say that the lease will end if the rent is not paid within 3 days. This gives a "right to cure" or fix the lease violation. If the tenant pays the rent in 3 days, the landlord cannot evict the tenant. The landlord must give a new 3-day notice of nonpayment each time rent is not paid. If the landlord does not give the right notice, the court may dismiss the landlord's case.
Clear And Present Danger
A "clear and present danger" could be anything putting other tenants, the landlord, or its employees in danger. The danger must be on or within 1,000 feet of the landlord's property. The law says a "clear and present danger" includes:
- physically assaulting or threatening another
- illegally using or possessing a firearm
- possessing illegal drugs
If a landlord thinks the tenant has done this, then the landlord may be able to end the lease with a 3-day notice. After that, the landlord can file an eviction case. If the problem was not caused by the tenant, the tenant may be able to keep the person who caused the problem away from the rental property. There are specific rules that have to be followed to use this "cure" option.
Other Lease Violations
A landlord may claim the tenant violated the lease in some other way. In most cases the landlord must give the tenants a 7-day notice with a right to fix or "cure" the lease violation. For example, a landlord may think the tenants have a dog, and the lease says no pets. The landlord must give the tenants a written notice. The notice must say the lease will end if they do not get rid of the dog within 7 days. If the tenants get rid of the dog within 7 days, then the lease does not end. If the tenants do not, the landlord may file an eviction case (but only after first giving a 3-day "notice to quit," explained below).
Some Lease Violations "Hover" For 6 Months
What happens if the tenant "cures" a lease violation, but the same thing happens again? For example, a tenant has a dog and the lease says no pets. The landlord gives a 7 day cure notice. The tenant gets rid of the dog in 7 days. The lease does not end. If the tenant gets a dog again within 6 months, the landlord can give a 7 day termination notice. The tenant does not get another chance to fix the problem. But, if the same type of lease violation happens again more than 6 months later, the landlord must give a new "cure" notice.
30-day Notice Of Termination
Many tenants rent an apartment for a specific period of time - such as one year. Other tenancies are called "month-to-month." A month-to-month tenancy has no special ending date. No reason is needed to end a month-to-month tenancy. Either the landlord or the tenant can decide to end a month-to-month tenancy. (However, the landlord cannot end the tenancy for an illegal reason. For example, landlords cannot end a tenancy because of the tenant's race, or the race of the tenant's guests.) Either the landlord or the tenant must give the other at least 30 days notice in writing before ending the tenancy. The notice must be given at least 30 days before the next time rent is due. If the rent is due on the first day of the month, the tenancy can only be ended on the first day of the month. So, a landlord cannot give a notice on September 10 to end the tenancy on October 10. The tenancy could not end until the next time rent is due - November 1.
Notice To Quit
If a landlord wants the tenant to leave, the landlord has to end the tenancy. The landlord would probably use one of the notices discussed in this article. In some cases, the landlord has to give another notice after the tenancy has been ended. That notice is a "Notice to Quit." This notice does not end the tenancy. Instead, it tells the tenant to leave ("quit"). This notice has to be given in the following situations:
- After a 7-day notice of noncompliance, if the tenant did not fix the problem (or if the problem happens again within 6 months)
- After a 30-day notice of termination
The landlord cannot file an eviction lawsuit until after the three days have gone by. If the landlord does file before waiting 3 days, the court should dismiss the lawsuit at the hearing.
How Eviction Cases Proceed
Tenants must get notice of any eviction hearing at least 3 days before it takes place. If the tenant is not served at least 3 full days before the hearing, the court should postpone the hearing. It may also be possible to serve tenants by posting on the door and mailing, or by certified mail. There may be problems with these types of "service." A tenant would probably need a lawyer to argue that the notice was no good.
It is important that you go to the court hearing. If you don't go, you could be evicted, even if you have a good defense.
The court hearing gives both the landlord and the tenant a chance to tell their story. A landlord will not win just because the tenant got the right notice. If the landlord claims that the tenant did not pay rent, the tenant can try to prove the rent was not owed. A landlord who claims the tenant was having loud parties must prove the tenant really disturbed other tenants. The landlord must also show the tenant kept doing it after getting a 7-day notice. Both sides can offer evidence and have witnesses speak. Eviction cases are usually heard in small claims court. Most are brought and defended by people without lawyers.
There are other ways to defend against an eviction. The right choice depends on the facts of your case. It is always better to have a lawyer help defend an eviction.
If a landlord wins the eviction case, the tenant can be ordered to leave right away. Most of the time the tenant still has a few days to move. This depends on what the judge's order says. It also depends on how busy the sheriff is. The sheriff will oversee the removal of the tenant and their property. If the tenant does not move, the tenant's property will be set out near the street. Most sheriffs give tenants a "courtesy call." This is a warning that their property will be removed. Sheriffs don't have to give this notice.
If a tenant wins the eviction case, the request to evict the tenant is dismissed. The tenant does not have to move out. Some landlords will file a new eviction case after giving the right notice(s). This starts the process over. Sometimes the landlord is allowed to evict the tenant the next time. The landlord's claims might be dismissed a second time. It all depends on the facts of each case.
Helping low-income Iowans who face legal problems involving housing is a priority for Iowa Legal Aid. To find out which office serves your county, call 1-800-532-1275. You may also find information on the Iowa Legal Aid Website. Go to iowalegalaid.org.