In two recent Supreme Court cases, the Court held a landlord cannot shift the financial costs of repairs necessary to comply with its duty of fitness and habitability under the Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
In De Stefano v. Apts. Downtown, Inc., and Caruso v. Apts. Downtown, Inc., the Supreme Court of Iowa found the landlord’s rental agreement was unconscionable and unenforceable. In both cases, the landlord required a rental deposit prior to the start of the lease. The lease agreement between the tenants and landlord required tenants to agree to an automatic charge for carpet cleaning after occupancy, “starting at $95 (efficiency) not to exceed $225 (6+ bedrooms) being deducted from the deposit for professional cleaning…” In addition, the lease contained a provision stating, “Unless the landlord is negligent, Tenants are responsible for the cost of all damages/repairs to windows, screens, doors, carpet, and walls, regardless of whether such damages is caused by residents, guests or others. “
Code section 562A.15, the Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (IURLTA), requires the landlord, not the tenant, to maintain fit premises, including making all repairs and doing whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition. The Court found the written provision that tenants are liable for “repairs” removes the obligation of the landlord to maintain a fit premises and assesses the cost of upkeep of the premises to the tenant. Additionally, the Court found the automatic carpet cleaning provision is in violation of 562A.12 and is unconscionable. The automatic cleaning provision required tenants to forgo rights under 562A.7(2) by preventing the tenants from contesting the need for the cleaning and by failing to require the landlord to meet its burden of proof in showing cleaning was necessary. Furthermore, the Court held, the provision holding tenants liable for “repairs” prevented the tenants from challenging the assessed costs. The Court held the landlord cannot shift the financial costs of repairs necessary to comply with its duty of fitness and habitability under Iowa Code section 562.15 to the tenant. Thus, the provisions seeking to automatically assess tenants for repairs to damaged property abdicated the landlord’s responsibility and evaded the landlord’s obligations, and therefore was unconscionable and unenforceable.