This resource concerns the purchase of a mobile home and the rental of lot space for a mobile home. If the mobile home itself is rented, a different law, Iowa's regular landlord/tenant act, applies to the rental of the mobile home.
What do I need to know when buying a mobile home?
• You need to know the condition of the mobile home.
You can hire a professional property inspector to look at the mobile home for you. If you cannot afford to hire a property inspector, you should carefully examine the mobile home yourself. Most mobile homes purchased from mobile home park owners or individuals are sold “as is.” You will likely not have any warranties or other protections if there are problems with the mobile home.
• You need to make sure that you get proof of your purchase.
You should get receipts or a Bill of Sale to show that you paid money to the seller. The seller should give you the title to the mobile home. The mobile home will have a title, just like a car. You cannot show you own the mobile home without having the title. You must record your mobile home title with your county’s treasurer’s office. If you have not recorded the title to your new mobile home, you will not be treated as the owner of the mobile home.
• You need to make sure that the taxes are paid.
You will be responsible for any unpaid taxes on the mobile home. If the seller is past due on the taxes, you will be forced to pay the past due amount in order to register your title. You must make sure that the tax payments are current when buying a mobile home. Taxes on a mobile home are due each September and March. You will need to pay the taxes at those times. You can contact your local county treasurer’s office with questions about the status of the mobile home’s tax payments.
What can I do to protect my rights?
- Put in writing any important message to your landlord (complaints, requests for repairs, etc.).
- Make and keep a copy of all such messages.
- Get a receipt for any payment.
What is a "Rental Agreement"?
- A rental agreement (or "lease") is the agreement between the mobile home park and the tenant. It covers the terms and conditions of renting lot space.
- A written rental agreement is not required, but it is best to have one. If the landlord doesn't provide one, the tenant could draw up a simple agreement.
- If the landlord gives the tenant a written rental agreement, then the tenant must sign and return one copy within 10 days. (The tenant should have a copy.)
What should a rental agreement include?
- The park manager's name and address;
- The park owner's name and address;
- Amount of rent and rental due date;
- Amount of other charges;
- Who is responsible for which utility service;
- Whether pets are allowed; and
- The length of time of the agreement. (If there is no agreement on how long the tenant will rent the lot space, the lease is for one year.)
- Any security deposit (no more than two months rent)
What about rules for a mobile home park?
- Rules may be in the rental agreement, or may be on a separate paper.
- All rules must be in writing, and given to the tenant before the rental agreement is signed.
- The rules must be applied equally to all tenants.
- The rule must be:
- for the safety or convenience of other tenants;
- to prevent harm to the landlord's property;
- to make sure any common facilities or services (roads, parking space, playgrounds, etc.) are available to everyone; or
- to aid in management of the park.
- A rule is not enforceable if it is inconsistent with another law.
What changes can be made in the rental agreement or rules?
- Rent increases: The tenant must receive a written notice at least 60 days before any rent increase can take effect. If the rental agreement is for a fixed period of time (6 months, 1 year, etc.), the rent cannot be increased during that time.
- Iowa has no rent control laws. The landlord has the right to charge any amount of rent.
- Other terms and rules. A tenant must receive a written notice at least 30 days before any other changes take effect. If the rental agreement is for a fixed period of time, there should not be a major change in rules during that time.
What are the landlord's duties?
The law says the landlord must:
- Obey all city, county, and state health or building codes which apply to landlords;
- Make any repairs or improvements needed to keep the lot space in good and safe condition;
- Keep all common areas (roads, playgrounds, parking lots, etc.) clean and safe;
- Provide for trash removal; and
- Provide outlets for electric, water, and sewer services.
What can a tenant do if landlord is not doing his or her job?
- The tenant should try to resolve problem with landlord before considering legal steps.
- The tenant can move out if the repairs are not made within a certain time, or seek a court order telling the landlord some action must be taken. A tenant cannot do these things unless the problem is major.
- A tenant should have a lawyer if asking for a court order.
- If the tenant plans to move if the landlord does not fix the problem, the tenant must send a letter to the landlord explaining the problem(s), and that the tenant plans to move out in 30 days if the problem is not taken care of in 14 days.
- This notice must be in writing and the tenant should keep a copy.
- The tenant must give notice to the landlord in one of the following ways:
- Hand delivery to the landlord or the person the landlord has designated in writing as authorized to receive notices;
- Delivery to the landlord or the person the landlord has designated in writing as authorized to receive notices, with a signed and dated acknowledgment of delivery;
- Delivery to an employee or agent of the landlord at the landlord's business office; or
- Mailing by both regular mail and certified mail to the address of the landlord's business office or an address designated by the landlord for mailing. (If mailing notice, it is considered received four days after it is mailed.)
- The tenant must continue paying rent during the 30 day period.
This procedure may not be used if the problem was caused by the tenant, a family member, or guest.
Neither of these options may be a good idea for a tenant. Under the first method, the ”solution” is to move. But that can be very expensive, especially if your mobile home is towed any distance. Many people just cannot afford the expense. It may also be impossible to move the mobile home, because there is no place to move it or because it cannot be moved. It is also a big inconvenience since your children may need to change schools, and you are leaving behind friends and familiar surroundings. On the other hand, a tenant who wants a court order would need to hire a lawyer. That also costs money (unless help from a Legal Aid office is available). Unfortunately, injunctions cannot be issued by the Small Claims Court, where tenants can represent themselves.
What are the tenant's duties?
The tenant must:
- Obey all city, county, and state health or building codes which apply to tenants;
- Keep the tenant's own lot clean and safe;
- Remove all trash from the mobile home in a clean and safe manner;
Never damage or destroy any mobile home park property, nor allow guests to do so;
- Not disturb other tenants, nor allow guests to do so;
- Maintain in good and safe working order all utility lines, pipes and cables extending from the mobile home to outlets provided by the landlord; and
- Follow other legal requirements of rental agreement.
What can the landlord do if the tenant doesn't do his or her duty?
The landlord can:
- End the rental agreement in 30 days if the tenant does not take care of the problem within 14 days of receipt of a written notice from the landlord, or
- The landlord may give notice to the tenant that if the tenant does not fix the problem within 14 days (or sooner if emergency), the landlord will enter the tenant's lot, do the needed work, and bill the tenant with the bill due along with the next rent payment.
Are there any things the landlord CANNOT do?
A landlord cannot:
- Force a tenant to move by shutting off utility service;
- Enter a tenant's mobile home without permission unless there is an emergency;
- Move the mobile home without a court eviction order (unless it has been abandoned); or
- Retaliate against a tenant by raising the rent, evicting the tenant, or threatening to do either one, based on a tenant:
- making an honest complaint to a local housing, health, or building department about a problem affecting health and safety;
- complaining to the landlord or owner about failing to follow their duties under the law;
- organizing or joining a tenant group; or
- using any of the tenant's rights under Iowa's Mobile Home Park law.
(However, it can be very difficult to prove the landlord did not have some other reason for raising the rent or evicting the tenant.)
- Prohibit or limit a resident's or tenant's rights to call law enforcement or other emergency assistance.
How Can the Tenant End the Rental Agreement?
- The tenant can give a 60-day written notice for any reason. (See above: "What can a tenant do if landlord is not doing his or her job?" for information on how notice can be given.) It can be given at any time during the month. (If your lease is for a fixed period of time, the tenant may owe damages to the landlord if they move during the term of the lease.)
- The tenant can end the lease if the landlord doesn't make necessary repairs. (See above: "What Can a Tenant Do if Landlord Is Not Doing His or Her Job.")
- Reminder: ending the rental agreement may not be the best option. Many mobile homes cannot be moved or can only be moved at great cost. A tenant might first try to sell the mobile home. The landlord may reserve the right to approve the purchaser but cannot unreasonably withhold permission.
How Can the Landlord End the Rental Agreement?
- Landlords have five ways to end a tenant's rental agreement. All notices must be in writing. The landlord can give notice to the tenant by:
- Delivering notice to an adult living in the unit and having the person sign and date an acknowledgment of delivery;
- Having a process server serve an adult living in the unit; or
- Posting on the door and mailing by both regular mail and certified mail. (If this method is used, the notice is considered received four days after it is mailed.)
- NONPAYMENT OF RENT. As soon as the rent is overdue, the landlord can give a 3-day notice stating that if the rent is not paid within three days, then the lease will end.
- CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. The landlord can give a 3-day notice for clear and present danger when a tenant or a tenant's guest does one of the following, or creates another serious problem:
- Physical assault or threat to do so;
- Use of or threat to use a gun, or illegal possession of a gun; or
- Possession of illegal drugs.
- (If guest or other household member caused the problem, it may be possible for the tenant to take steps to keep from being evicted. The tenant should contact a lawyer immediately regarding these steps.)
- TENANT'S VIOLATION OF LEASE OR RULES. The landlord can give a notice to a tenant that unless a problem is fixed or a rule violation ends within 14 days, the rental agreement will end in 30 days.
- TENANT'S 2ND VIOLATION OF LEASE OR RULES. If just about the same problem happens again within six months of the first "14/30 notice", the landlord may end the rental agreement just by giving a 14-day notice.
- 60 DAY NOTICE. The landlord can give this notice for any reason or for no reason, except:
- Illegal retaliation (See above: "What A Landlord Cannot Do");
- Just to make the tenant's mobile home space available for another mobile home;
- The notice cannot be used to end a rental agreement before its term expires, such as ending a 1 year lease before the year is over; and
- A 60 day notice can be given at any time during the month. The tenant must continue to pay rent, or risk being evicted for nonpayment of rent.
What about evictions?
- If a rental agreement has been ended, the next step is a court eviction hearing. Evictions are also called "Forcible Entry and Detainer Actions" or "F.E.D.s."
- The tenant cannot be removed from the mobile home lot until after losing at the eviction hearing.
Here are the steps a landlord must follow after the rental agreement has been ended.
- Give Notice to quit. The landlord must give a written notice, stating that the tenant has at least three days to move (or "quit") the mobile home lot. This step is not needed if the rental agreement ended due to nonpayment of rent or a clear and present danger.
- Start the court process. The landlord files a paper called an "Original Notice - Action for Forcible Entry and Detainer." The Original Notice will show the time and place of the hearing. The hearing must be set at least three days after the tenant is notified of the hearing. The Original Notice must be served on the tenant. It can be served by:
- Delivering notice to and adult living in the unit and having the person sign and date an acknowledgment of delivery;
- Having a process server serve and adult living in the unit; or
- Posting on the door and mailing by both regular mail and certified mail. (If this method is used, the notice is considered received four days after it is mailed.)
- Have the eviction hearing. At the hearing, both the landlord and tenant can tell their side of the story. The judge will decide who wins. (A tenant who does not show up for the hearing will usually lose.) The tenant can continue to stay at the mobile home park if the tenant wins the hearing. If the tenant loses at the hearing, then he/she must move. The landlord has the right to ask for a court order telling the sheriff to remove the tenant's mobile home. The court order is called a "writ of removal" or "writ of possession." If the judge decides the tenant should be evicted, the judge can give the tenant up to 3 days to move out before the sheriff comes to move the tenant out.
What are the tenant's rights after losing the eviction?
The tenant must file an appeal within 20 days of the court decision or it is too late. There is a $195 filing fee. An appeal will make a higher court review the decision. A tenant won't win on appeal unless the higher court finds the eviction judge made a mistake. Filing an appeal will not stop the eviction, unless the tenant asks the court to "stay" [stop] the landlord from carrying out the order of removal. The tenant has to get the stay before they are removed by the sheriff. To get a stay, the tenant will usually need to pay money called a "bond."
Ask for 60 days to sell or move the mobile home.
If both the landlord and tenant agree, the landlord can allow the mobile home to stay on the lot for 60 days. The tenant cannot stay in the mobile home. The utilities will be shut off. The 60-day delay is to allow the tenant time to sell the mobile home, or have more time to move it. The tenant has to give 24 hours' notice to the landlord each time the tenant comes onto the property to show the unit or remove personal property, etc. The tenant must ask for the 60 day delay within three days of the eviction order. The tenant must also send a notice of the 60-day delay, along with a copy of the eviction order, to the sheriff, the landlord, each lienholder and the county treasurer. If the mobile home is not sold or moved during the 60 days, the landlord can dispose of the mobile home.
Landlord's lawsuit to dispose of mobile home
The landlord can file another lawsuit asking for a court order allowing the landlord to dispose of the mobile home. The landlord does not have to file this lawsuit if the mobile home is considered abandoned and valueless. The tenant can put in a claim to the mobile home during the lawsuit. The tenant has to pay the landlord what is owed before the tenant can move the mobile home or get any personal property that was left in it. After the court gives an order for disposal, the landlord can either sell the mobile home or propose just to keep it. If the landlord proposes to keep the mobile home, the tenant can object. The tenant has to object within 21 days after the notice was sent. If the tenant does object, the landlord has to sell the mobile home. If there is anything left over after the judgment is paid off, and any tax liens have been paid, the landlord is to hold the surplus for six months. If the tenant does not claim the amount during that time, the landlord can keep it. If the sale did not bring in enough to cover everything, the mobile home owner is liable for the balance owed.
Any tenant with problems involving an eviction, or other landlord/tenant law questions should see an attorney for advice. Helping low-income Iowans with problems involving basic necessities, fundamental rights and safety is a priority for Iowa Legal Aid. To find out the number of the Iowa Legal Aid office serving your area, call 1-800-532-1275. You also may find useful information in other articles posted on the Iowa Legal Aid website at iowalegalaid.org.