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.

A lease is a legally binding contract and is difficult to terminate early. However, there may be options available to both tenants and landlords to terminate a lease.

These options all have specific timelines and notice requirements. If proper procedure is not followed, there can be serious financial consequences. This is a general overview, and every circumstance is unique. If you are considering early termination of your lease or are facing eviction, Student Legal Services strongly recommends that you speak with us or another attorney as soon as possible.

Grounds for termination

  • Failure to Deliver Possession – The landlord is required to deliver possession of the rental unit at the beginning of the lease term in accordance with the lease and the law. If this is not done, you may have the right to terminate.
  • Noncompliance with the Lease Agreement – If the landlord has materially breached the lease agreement, you must give the landlord notice and the opportunity to fix the issue. If the landlord fails to do so, you may have the right to terminate the lease.
  • Failure to Maintain the Premises – Under Iowa law, the landlord has certain minimum requirements to maintain the rental unit and common spaces. If the landlord fails to meet these requirements in a way that materially affects health and safety, you must give the landlord notice and the opportunity to fix the issue. If the landlord fails to do so, you may have the right to terminate the lease.
  • Unlawful Entry – This ground for termination directly relates to the landlord’s right of access to your rental unit. If your landlord has made an unlawful entry, a lawful but unreasonable entry, or repeatedly demanded entry, you may have the right to terminate.
  • Unlawful Ouster, Exclusion, or Diminution of Service – If the landlord unlawfully removes or excludes you from the rental unit, or diminishes essential services, you may have the right to terminate.
  • Fire or Casualty Damage – If the rental unit is substantially damaged or destroyed due to fire or other disaster, you may have the right to terminate.

Note: If the landlord disagrees with your termination notice, the landlord could deem the lease abandoned. See abandonment section below.

Other tenant options

If your circumstance do not fit any of the above, but you do not want to live in your rental unit, you may still have options.

  • Release – A release is an agreement where the tenant and the landlord agree to terminate the lease. There is no automatic right to a release under Iowa law. You and the landlord must come to your own agreement regarding the terms of the release, which often requires you to pay money. If you cannot come to an agreement, you are still obligated to fulfill the terms of the lease.
  • Sublease – A sublease is an agreement where a new tenant takes the original tenant’s place in the unit and assumes their responsibilities. You are not removed from the lease, and must fulfill the lease obligations, including rent, if the new tenant does not. Some landlords may charge a sublease fee.
  • Abandonment – Abandonment occurs when a tenant vacates a rental unit during the lease term without a valid legal reason and does not obtain a release or sublease. You are still responsible for rent after you abandon. If you do not pay rent, the landlord could keep the security deposit, sue you, or turn the debt over to collections. However, the landlord also has an obligation to mitigate its damages. In other words, the landlord must look for another tenant to take your place. If the landlord finds a new tenant, their claim against you is limited to damages incurred prior to the new tenant moving in.

Grounds for eviction

An eviction is a legal proceeding where a judge orders a tenant removed from a rental unit. You have the right to appear at your eviction hearing and explain your position to the judge. Iowa does not have self-help evictions, meaning that your landlord cannot just change the locks or throw out your belongings. If there is no tenant to take your place after an eviction, you can still be held responsible for rent.

  • Failure to Pay Rent – If you do not pay your rent on time, your landlord must give you a notice and an opportunity to pay it before proceeding with an eviction.
  • Noncompliance with the Lease Agreement – If you do not abide by the terms of the lease, for example by smoking in a non-smoking unit, your landlord must give you a notice and opportunity to comply before proceeding with an eviction.
  • Clear and Present Danger – If you engage in certain activities, including assaultive behavior, possessing unlawful weapons, or possessing illegal drugs, your landlord can proceed with eviction.

Also under Tenants' Rights:

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Finding the Right Unit

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Before You Move In

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Moving In