Move Out in Three Days? Are They Serious? The Meaning of Eviction Notices
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
What would you do if your landlord told you to move out in three days? Would you really have to pack up and be out in three days? What would happen if you were not out by then? This resource will go over the eviction process. It will focus on the notices that are given to tenants,
and what they really mean.
First, it is important for tenants to know that only a judge can order an eviction. A landlord does not have the right to move a tenant out without first going to court and getting a judge to order that a tenant has to move out. The landlord gives certain notices to start a lawsuit, but the judge
decides if the tenant has to leave. An eviction lawsuit is called a "Forcible Entry and Detainer" action. Here, it will just be called an eviction. After the landlord starts the eviction, a hearing will be set up automatically. The tenant has a chance to tell the judge his or her side of the story. The landlord has the same right. If the judge decides the tenant will be evicted, the sheriff's deputy will come and either move the tenant out, or supervise someone paid to move the tenant out. The landlord cannot remove a tenant without having a sheriff's deputy there to enforce the court order.
There are a lot of notices that can be given to tenants. Several of the notices give the tenant three days to take some action. Sometimes these notices are confused with each other, or the wrong notice is given by the landlord. This is important, because if the landlord gives the wrong notice, or no notice, it may mean that the tenant will win at the eviction hearing. So, what notices does a landlord need to give to a tenant? A landlord must take specific legal steps to end a tenancy. An eviction lawsuit cannot be started by the landlord until the tenancy is legally ended.
Notices Used to End a Tenancy
The type of notice needed depends on the reason for ending the tenancy.
Unpaid Rent - Three-Day Notice of Nonpayment of Rent: If a landlord is trying to evict a tenant for not paying rent, the landlord must first give the tenant a three-day notice of nonpayment of rent. The notice should tell the tenant how much rent is owed, and that the tenant has three days to pay it. It should also say that if the rent is not paid, the landlord intends to end
the tenancy. If the tenant pays within the three days, the tenant can stay. If the landlord demands the payment of other fees with the rent, such as late fees, the tenant may have a defense at an eviction hearing. The law in Iowa is not clear about this point at this time.
- Tenant Broke a Rule - Seven-Day Notice of Noncompliance: If a tenant breaks a rule or a term of the lease, like having a pet when the lease prohibits it, or having a loud party that disturbs the neighbors, the landlord would give a notice of noncompliance. This notice gives the tenant seven days to cure, or fix, the problem. If the problem isn't taken care of, the tenancy is over at the end of the seven days. If the problem is taken care of, but the same problem happens again within six months, the landlord can end the tenancy without giving the tenant another chance to fix things by giving the tenant another seven day notice. This second seven day notice does not have to give the tenant the right to fix the problem.
- No Reason Notice 30 days before the next time rent is due: If the tenancy is month-to-month (that is, there is no specified length of time, like six months or a year), the landlord does not have to have a reason to end the tenancy. The landlord can end the tenancy by giving a 30-day notice. The timing of this notice is important, though. A month-to-month tenancy can only be ended on a date when rent would be due, usually the first day of the month. So, the notice needs to be given 30 days before the next time rent is due. If the landlord gives a 30-day notice on March 5, the tenancy is NOT over on April 5. Instead, it would not be effective until May 1, assuming the rent was due on the first day of the month.
- Violence or Drugs - Three-Day Notice of Clear and Present Danger: In cases where a tenant presents a threat to the landlord, tenants, or anyone else, the landlord may give a notice that ends the tenancy, and tells the tenant to leave. The law does not define what a clear and present danger is, but the examples given are assaulting someone, illegal use of a gun or other weapon, or having illegal drugs. This part of the law is written broadly enough that it could even apply to a tenant who is the victim of an assault, or whose guests get in a fight.
When a tenant gets a "Three-Day Notice of Clear and Present Danger" from a landlord, the tenant has a number of options in addition to leaving the rental unit. The law also allows a tenant to respond by taking steps to keep the person who is dangerous away from the property. The tenant
can do one of three things:
- Get a domestic abuse protection order, or
- Report the person to law enforcement so that person can be prosecuted, or
- Write a letter to the person, telling him or her to stay away, or the tenant will report the person for trespassing.
The tenant has to give a copy of the "trespass" letter to the law enforcement office that covers the area where the tenant lives. The tenant has to move fast, though. The tenant has to give the landlord proof that one of these three things has been done, before the landlord starts the eviction lawsuit. If the three-day notice for clear and present danger given by the landlord does not tell the tenant what they can do to fix the problem, then the tenant will have a defense at the eviction hearing.
Notice Needed Before An Eviction Can Be Filed In Court
Notice to Quit, another three-day notice, must be given before most types of eviction cases can be filed in court. This notice tells the tenant to leave within three days. It doesn't give the tenant the chance to fix things and stay. It needs to be given in all eviction cases EXCEPT when a Notice of Nonpayment has been given to the tenant, or a Notice of Clear and Present Danger.
Notice Starting the Lawsuit
The notice that begins the eviction lawsuit is called an "Original Notice." It will set up a time for the eviction hearing. Often, a landlord will file a separate lawsuit at the same time to collect back rent or damages as well. If so, the tenant needs to turn in an Answer form for the second case, or a court decision can be entered without the tenant's side even being heard. The second lawsuit will have a separate case number. If the tenant goes to the eviction hearing they must still turn in the Answer to the second case or risk automatically losing and owing the landlord money.
What if the tenant does not get the proper notices?
If the landlord doesn't give a required notice, or gives the wrong notice, it could well mean that the landlord will lose at the eviction hearing. But, the landlord could turn around and give the right notice afterwards, and then start another eviction lawsuit.
Another possibility is that a tenant never sees, for example, a Notice of Nonpayment of Rent, but the landlord tells the judge that the notice was sent by certified mail. What does that mean? Iowa's law allows most eviction notices to be given to tenants by certified mail (which needs to be signed for). What if the tenant did not have a chance to pick up the certified mail right away? Shouldn't the tenant still have three days to pay the rent after the certified mail is signed for? But should a tenant be able to put off paying the rent forever, by failing to pick up the certified mail on purpose? What if the Original Notice telling the tenant about the eviction hearing is not picked up until after the hearing has been held? These are all questions that are not clearly answered by Iowa law right now.
It is a very good idea for a tenant to pick up certified mail right away. A tenant could be evicted without even realizing it until the landlord and sheriff come to remove them. It seems likely that judges will protect tenants against unfair tactics by landlords. However, the decision about what is unfair may depend a lot on what information the judge gets at the hearing.
Any tenant with problems involving an eviction should see an attorney for advice. To find out if free legal help is available from Iowa Legal Aid, call 1-800-532-1275.