Tenant (or renter) rights, duties, and remedies

The tenant is the person renting the home, room, or apartment to live in, while the landlord is the person (or group of people) renting the apartment to the tenant. For example, if Gregor is renting an apartment from Juanita, Gregor is the tenant and Juanita is the landlord. Information icon

While a variety of federal, state, and local laws can apply to the relationship between a landlord and a tenant, this page focuses on the Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

Tenant rights

The Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, Iowa Code chapter 562A, includes parts that are called “Tenant Obligations” and “Tenant Remedies.” While the Act does not include a part called “Tenant Rights,” because the act imposes duties on landlords, we can also find tenants’ rights in the chapter.

Tenants have a right to live in the rental housing during the term of the rental agreement (lease). Tenants also have a right to peaceful possession and privacy, although the Iowa Code does authorize landlords to enter the rental to inspect it and to make necessary or agreed upon repairs or improvements, so long as the landlord gives the tenant at least 24-hours' notice. Landlords can enter without notice for emergencies, such as leaking pipes or fires. 

Remember, you may also have rights under federal law, other state laws, or local laws that go beyond Iowa's Landlord-Tenant Act.

Tenant duties (or obligations)

The Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act has several sections that focus on “Tenant Obligations,” meaning things the tenant has a duty to do. These obligations are located at Iowa Code sections 562A.17 through 562A.20.

An important duty of the tenant is to pay rent, without being reminded by the landlord. Iowa Code section 562A.9. Tenants must also:

  • Follow tenants’ building, housing, city, county, and state laws to keep spaces healthy and safe
  • Keep their spaces clean and safe, removing garbage regularly
  • Use all supplied appliances, common areas, and utilities properly
  • Protect the apartment from careless or intentional damage
  • Respect your neighbors by not creating too much noise or any dangerous conditions
  • Follow landlord rules (if the rules meet the requirements of Iowa Code section 562A.18)
  • Allow the landlord to enter under certain circumstances
  • Use the rental as a place to live, unless otherwise agreed to with the landlord

Tenant remedies

The Iowa Code provides tenants with several remedies when landlords do not follow the lease’s terms or correct problems that make apartments dangerous or unhealthy places to live.  You may not simply refuse to pay your rent until the problems are corrected.  You need to read Iowa Code sections 562A.21-562A.26 carefully to make sure that you take the right steps to notify your landlord about the problems and give the landlord a chance to fix them.

If you discover serious problems with your rental unit, which you did not cause, and those problems create unhealthy or unsafe living conditions, you can:

  • Send the landlord a written, dated notice of the specific problems they need to fix within seven days, or you will end the lease and move after those seven days. 
    • Make sure you either send the notice through certified mail or hand-deliver it, asking the landlord to sign to acknowledge they received the notice. 
    • If the landlord makes the repairs within the 7 days, the lease continues.  If the landlord does not make the necessary repairs within those seven days, move out.
  • Send the landlord a written, dated notice of the specific problems that need to be fixed and get written consent from the landlord to fix the problems yourself and subtract the repair costs from your rent.
  • File a lawsuit to recover damages, request an injunction, and possibly recover attorney fees, if the landlord has not taken appropriate steps to fix the problems after you have notified the landlord of the problems. If the landlord has actively tried to fix the problems but circumstances beyond the landlord’s control are delaying repairs, this remedy may not be your best choice.

For more information on Tenant Rights, Duties, and Remedies, see Iowa Legal Aid’s Summary of Iowa Landlord and Tenant Law and the Iowa Legislative Services Agency’s Legislative Guide—Landlord-Tenant Law (December 2016).