The information below is accurate to the authors’ knowledge at the time it was written. This is general information and is not a substitute for legal advice.

Factors to consider:

Before you even start looking, you should determine what your housing budget will be and stick to that amount. You should not only consider rent, but also utilities, parking fees, transportation costs, the security deposit, and pet fees. Some apartment complexes in the Iowa City-area offer swimming pools, fitness centers, tanning beds, etc. You may be able to find these amenities elsewhere for a lower price.

SLS highly recommends that prospective tenants tour the exact unit they want to rent before signing a lease. Model units are often in better condition than the units available for rent. If an in-person tour is not possible, ask for a video tour. 

Rental units in downtown Iowa City tend to cost more than those farther from downtown or in small cities like Coralville. When touring units, consider your transportation options and how you will get to class, work, etc. 

Look at the locks on the doors and windows. Visit the property at night to see if the area around the property is well lit.

You should investigate the reputation of the landlord and property manager concerning maintenance, return of security deposits, communication, and overall relationships with tenants.

Be aware of the length of the lease agreement you are signing. Most leases in the Iowa City-area are not for 365 days. They generally start during the first week of August, and end in mid- to late-July.

Leases often have joint and several liability clauses, meaning you are financially responsible for your roommates. Consider whether an individual lease may be a better option for you. 

How to research the unit and landlord

Lease agreements

A lease is a legally binding contract that can be difficult to terminate. If you are signing a lease with roommates, you should all sign the lease at the same time. You should read the entire lease before signing so that you understand your responsibilities as a tenant.

If you are signing a renewal lease, read the entire renewal before signing.  The landlord may have made changes, including to the rent amount.

SLS offer free lease reviews to students.

Be aware of the following as you are reviewing the lease:

  • Landlord refuses to give you a copy of the lease to review with a lawyer 
  • Landlord puts pressure on you to sign immediately 
  • Landlord makes promises regarding the unit, but they are not in the lease 
  • There are blanks in the lease document 
  • Landlord asks for money (other than an application fee) before you sign the lease 
  • Landlord will not amend the lease when it has an illegal provision 

The following are common illegal lease provisions. There are other, less common provisions prohibited by Iowa law. SLS provides free lease reviews to students and can identity these illegal provisions.

  • Excessive Security Deposits - A security deposit cannot exceed two month’s rent.
  • Automatic Carpet Cleaning Provisions - Lease provisions that require the tenant to pay for carpet cleaning at the end of a lease, regardless of actual damage, are illegal and unenforceable. This is true even if you have already signed the lease or if the carpet was professionally cleaned before you moved in.
  • Late Fees - Iowa law limits the amount that landlords can charge for late fees. If the rent is $700 dollars or less per month, the late fee cannot exceed $12 per day or a total of $60 per month. If the rent is more than $700 per month, the late fee cannot exceed $20 per day or a total of $100 per month.
  • Fines for lease violations - A landlord cannot automatically assess fines for lease violations. The landlord is required to prove there is specific damage to the unit as a result of the violation. If your landlord is trying to enforce an illegal provision, contact Student Legal Services or another attorney.

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Before you move in

Also under Tenants' Rights:

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Before You Move In

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Moving in

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