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As Iowa landlords know, there remains a good deal of inconsistency among small claims magistrates across Iowa’s 99 counties regarding various legal questions pertinent to residential evictions, resulting in the need to appeal certain small claims eviction decisions to an Iowa district judge or district magistrate judge. Other times, the tenant decides to appeal an eviction ruling favorable to the landlord such that the landlord must defend the appeal. Herein are descriptions of and links to two recent appellate decisions favorable to landlords. Landlords should utilize and cite to these decisions in their eviction hearings if the same or similar issue is before the court.

The first appeal decision to be discussed is from a Polk County eviction matter. There, the Court dismissed the landlord’s eviction petition based upon the tenant’s 30-day peaceable possession argument, despite multiple Iowa Court of Appeals cases supporting the landlord’s position that it was entitled to the eviction, including the case of Des Moines RHF Hous., Inc. v. Spencer, No. 17-1465, 2018 WL 3057604, *2 (Iowa Ct. App. June 20, 2018) and AHEPA 192-1 Apts. v. Smith. Now, our best practices recommendation remains the same—landlords should include only one month’s worth of rent within their Notices of Nonpayment and file their evictions within 30 days of the due date for rent (typically meaning the eviction should be filed by the end of the month at issue), so as to avoid having to potentially deal with a 30-day peaceable possession argument—but there are many situations where a landlord is still entitled to evict using a Notice of Nonpayment with multiple months of rent and/or where the eviction was filed after the end of the month at issue.

In the Polk County matter, the district court hearing this appeal rejected the small claims court’s 30-day peaceable possession position, reversed the small claims decision and entered the eviction ruling in favor of the landlord. In pertinent part, the court held as follows:

Iowa Code Section 648.18 states: “Thirty days’ peaceable possession with the knowledge of the plaintiff after the cause of action accrues is a bar to this proceeding.” The question in this case is whether the Doctrine of Peaceable Possession applies. The answer to that question hinges on another: when did the cause of action accrue?

In the petition, Plaintiff asserts the grounds for the FED as, “unlawfully holding over after Plaintiff’s termination of [your] tenancy pursuant to Iowa law.” Pursuant to Iowa Code § 562.27, Plaintiff issued a “3-Day Notice of Non-Payment of Rent and 30- Day Notice to Vacate.” This gave Defendant three days to cure his non-payment of rent and notice that, if he failed to cure by the deadline, his tenancy would terminate 30 days after service of the notice. That termination date was March 14, 2023. Defendant did not pay his past-due rent by the cure date, nor did he vacate the premises by the termination date. As a result, Plaintiff had valid grounds to initiate an action for FED based on the Defendant’s status as an unlawful holdover tenant. Iowa Code § 648.1(2). The cause of action accrued on March 14—the day the lease terminated.

Plaintiff initiated the FED just three days later, eliminating any potential defense of “peaceable possession.” In this case, Plaintiff chose to file the petition against Defendant as a holdover tenant. The Trial Court treated Plaintiff’s petition as if it asserted a claim under Iowa Code Section 648.1(5) for non-payment of rent. This Court will not recast the petition but will read it according to its plain language. See AHEPA 192-1 Apts. v. Smith, No. 11-0167, 2011 WL 6669744 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 21, 2011). . . The Court finds that Plaintiff initiated its action against Defendant as a holdover tenant under Iowa Code Section 648.1(2) and that the cause of action accrued immediately upon termination of the Defendant’s tenancy. The Court finds that the Doctrine of Peaceable Possession does not apply, as Defendant possessed the property for just three days between the cause of action accrual and Plaintiff’s filing of the petition.

The appellate court also held that “a separate Notice to Quit is not required before initiation of the FED since Plaintiff gave the three days’ notice to quit and terminated the tenancy. Iowa Code Section 648.3(1).” See id. at FN 3.

The second appeal decision to be discussed is from a Henry County eviction matter. There, the Court entered an eviction order, and Iowa Legal Aid, which represented the tenant, appealed, arguing that a new 3-Day Notice of Nonpayment has to be issued because the landlord’s original eviction petition was filed too early. The district court hearing the appeal quickly rejected that argument and upheld the eviction order. An excerpt of this ruling is below:

[Tenant] argues that because [Landlord] filed a FED action prematurely, on January 13, 2023, she was not given the full opportunity to cure the deficiency. If this Court was reviewing a judgment from that FED action, that may very well be the case. However, that FED action was dismissed. This is an entirely new FED action, filed on January 23, 2023. This FED was filed an appropriate amount of time after the cure period and is thus valid. [Tenant] believes that a new Notice to Cure and Quit should have been served, and she should have been allowed a new cure period.

There is absolutely no legal authority contained in the Iowa Code or case law to support this premise. Once a party has been given notice and failed to pay the past due rent, their tenancy is terminated. No further notice is required. Both the Iowa Code and case law are quite clear on that point. [Tenant] was given a three-day cure period to pay rent. She could have still paid the $625 on January 13, regardless of whether a FED was filed. The fact that a FED was filed prematurely is irrelevant. The FED action is a vehicle to enforce one’s right to property; a premature FED does not invalidate a properly served Notice, rather the fact that the Fed was filed early invalidates the FED action itself. The only way a FED action could be barred and a new Notice required would be if a landlord failed to timely file a FED within thirty days and instead allowed peaceable possession during that time period pursuant to Iowa Code 648.18. That is simply not the case here.

As noted, landlords should utilize and cite to these decisions in their eviction hearings if the same or similar issue is before the court.

If you have questions regarding anything addressed in this article, please contact Jodie McDougal at or at 515.242.8971.


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