Communicating with landlords
Student Legal Services recommends communicating with your landlord in writing only. If it is necessary to have phone or in-person communication with your landlord, you should follow-up the conversation with an email summarizing the substance of that conversation and any agreements that were made. Keep any emails, texts, letters, and voicemails between you and the landlord until your lease ends and your security deposit has been returned.
As a tenant, you are required to pay rent in accordance with the lease agreement. You have a legal duty to keep the premises clean and safe, and to use appliances and utilities in a reasonable manner. Neither you nor your guests can damage the premises or disturb the neighbors.
You should read your lease carefully to understand your responsibilities. Common provisions include:
- Limits on overnight guests
- A requirement that tenants notify their landlord if they are away for an extended period
- Whether the tenant or the landlord is responsible for lawn care and snow removal
- The minimum thermostat temperature during the winter. Note: Never turn your heat completely off in the winter. Iowa has cold winters and freezing pipes can cause substantial damage to a rental unit.
- Rules about parking
Maintenance and repairs
Notify the landlord of all necessary repairs in writing and keep a copy of the request for your records. If your landlord utilizes an online maintenance request form, take a screenshot of your request before you submit it. If you do not get a response or the issue continues, follow-up with the landlord (you may need to submit another request).
Note: If you noted a maintenance issue on your move-in checklist, you still need to submit a maintenance request.
The landlord has a legal duty to maintain the premises and keep it in a safe and habitable condition. If you receive a bill for maintenance and repairs, it may not be your responsibility to pay.
Even if your landlord has not made repairs, withholding rent could lead to eviction proceedings. Depending on the circumstances, you may have the option to terminate your lease because of a landlord's failure to make repairs, but you must follow proper legal procedure. Before you pay a maintenance bill or terminate your lease, contact SLS or another attorney.
If you believe there is a safety issue with your rental unit, you should contact your landlord, contact Student Legal Services or another attorney, and your local housing inspector.
Heat/running water/hot water
Under Iowa law, a landlord is required to provide three essential services: heat, running water, and hot water. If your landlord is not providing any of these things, you should contact the landlord, contact Student Legal Services or another attorney, and the city housing inspector right away. Possible remedies include temporary housing and reduced rent.
Landlord access to your unit
Your landlord has the right to enter your rental unit for city inspections, to make repairs and alterations, and to show the unit to prospective tenants or buyers. The landlord is required to give at least 24 hours’ notice of their intent to enter unless it is an emergency. The landlord can only enter at reasonable times, and a tenant can withhold consent if it would be reasonable to do so. For example, it is likely reasonable to withhold consent if the landlord wants to enter at 5 a.m or come in every day.
If you have concerns about your landlord accessing your unit, contact Student Legal Services or another attorney.
Reasonable accommodations and disability discrimination
Under federal and state law, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities so they can fully use their rental unit. This may include making changes to the rules in the lease and landlord and tenant responsibilities. Tenants are required to submit requests and supporting documentation to their landlord for reasonable accommodations. Not all requests are required to be granted. Disability discrimination occurs when a landlord unlawfully denies a reasonable accommodation.
Many leases in the Iowa City-area prohibit pets. Under federal and state law, service and assistance animals (also called emotional support animals) used by people with disabilities are not pets. Landlords cannot charge pet fees, pet rent, or pet deposits for service and assistance animals. Tenants are still responsible for damage caused by their service and assistance animals.
If you need a reasonable accommodation in order to live in your rental unit, or you believe your landlord has discriminated against you, contact Student Legal Services for the appropriate forms and to discuss the process.