Landlords who rent property will inevitably encounter a dispute with a tenant. Common disagreements arise over the return of security deposits, assessment of late fees on monthly rent, and damage to the rental property. Regardless of the issue, landlords must take a proactive approach both before and after the tenants occupy the rental premises in case a dispute escalates to litigation.
Prior to the tenants taking possession of the rental property, landlords should prepare a written lease agreement that clearly explains the terms of the landlord-tenant relationship. Please note that Iowa law prohibits landlords from utilizing a security deposit amounting to more than two months of rent. Therefore, if the monthly rent is $1,000.00, a landlord is permitted to implement a maximum security deposit fee of $2,000.00. Additionally, a rental agreement cannot include a provision that requires the tenant to pay for the landlord’s attorney’s fees. However, a court has the discretion to award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in a lawsuit involving a rental agreement.
Landlords should take several photographs of both the exterior and interior of the entire premises to demonstrate an accurate representation of the condition of the rental property before the tenants occupy the premises. Moreover, landlords should create a detailed written inventory of all personal property (e.g., silverware, glassware, small appliances, furniture, etc.) if the rental property includes furnishings. Landlords also need to prepare a ledger to document each rental payment made by the tenant during the term of the leasehold.
After the tenants vacate the rental premises, landlords should once again break out the camera and promptly take a second round of photographs. The new set of pictures allows the landlord to compare the current condition of the rental property to the condition before the tenant’s occupancy. Accordingly, the photographs may permit the landlord to establish damages for repairs that rise above normal wear and tear. Along the same lines, the landlord should take another inventory of any furnishings provided to the tenant. Finally, the landlord must keep accurate records of payment history should the landlord evict the tenant and subsequently bring an action to recover damages for unpaid rent.