Legal Issues

Implications for Iowa Landlords on the Recent Iowa Supreme Court Order - October 5, 2020

Jodie Clark McDougal

On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an order (Iowa Order) implementing the previously issued Centers for Disease Control (CDC) order temporarily halting certain nationwide residential nonpayment evictions when tenants invoke the protections of the CDC Order. 

Signed on October 2, the Iowa Order provides procedures regarding the implementation of the CDC’s order, as well as an Evictions Declaration form with instructions.  

Key Takeaways for Landlords 

While landlords should carefully review the entire text of the Iowa Order, below is a list of the key implications and takeaways for Iowa landlords.

Confirms the CDC Order is Not an Automatic Stay

The Iowa Order makes it clear that a nonpayment eviction should only be continued or otherwise stayed by the courts if the court determines that a signed declaration has been provided to the landlord. In Iowa, we have seen multiple instances of courts believing the CDC Order was an automatic stay of all evictions even where there have been no submitted declarations, so the Iowa Order should eliminate that type of judicial error.

Landlords Cannot Question the Veracity of Declarations

State courts have differed in their interpretation of the CDC Order over the last thirty days since the CDC Order was entered. Like several other states, the Iowa Supreme Court has decided to take the more cautious approach, to the detriment of Iowa landlords.

Per the Iowa Supreme Court’s interpretation of the CDC Order, landlords do not have the right to challenge the veracity of a declaration submitted by a tenant. For example, with the issuance of the Iowa Order, local magistrates will presumably not allow a landlord to ask the tenant questions at the eviction hearing regarding whether he/she has actually used their best efforts to obtain governmental rental assistance or pay partial rent, and will not otherwise allow a landlord to ask the tenant to provide support for the truthfulness of the assertions in the submitted declaration.  

Instead, the court will simply continue the eviction hearing until the start of 2021, and landlords will now have to take all submitted declarations at face value. Specifically, the Iowa Order provides that, once the court determines the signed Declaration has been provided by the tenant(s) to the landlord, the court must continue the hearing on the eviction action until after December 31, 2020 (or dismiss it “if necessary”). 

Confirms All Tenants Must Submit Declaration to Invoke CDC Order Protections 

The Iowa Order expressly provides “[a]ll adults listed on the lease, rental agreement, or housing contract for the property must complete and sign an Evictions Declaration.”  Landlords and property managers need to keep this in mind. 

Confirms the CDC Order Only Applies to Nonpayment Actions

The Iowa Order confirms that the CDC Order can only be invoked in an eviction based upon nonpayment of rent or failure to make a housing payment.  In Iowa, we have seen multiple local magistrates believe the CDC Order applies to all residential evictions. The Iowa Order should eliminate that type of judicial error and is welcomed guidance for both the courts and the public at large. 

The pertinent language of the Iowa Supreme Court order is below:

“This order does not prevent the eviction of a tenant, lessee, or resident for a reason other than the nonpayment of rent, including grounds set forth in Iowa Code sections 648.1(1), (3), (4), and (6). This order also does not prevent evictions pursuant to section 648.1 (2) where the lease was terminated for a reason other than the nonpayment of rent.”  

Post-Judgment Enforcement Proceedings Affected by Iowa Order 

The Iowa Order provides that “if the judgment has already been entered, enforcement of the judgment shall be stayed through December 31, 2020.” Accordingly, if a landlord has already obtained an eviction order and then receives a declaration, the landlord should immediately consult counsel for further instructions. 

Provides Guidance Regarding 30-Day Peaceable Possession Bar 

Finally, the Iowa Order contains language that should be helpful to landlords recovering past due rent come January, when the CDC Order expires, regarding tenants who may try to raise a defense based upon Iowa’s 30-day peaceable possession bar. The Iowa Order reiterates the Court’s May 22 Order by providing that the 30-day peaceable possession bar does not apply when there is a state or federal moratorium.  Specifically, the Iowa Order provides as follows: 

“5. Paragraphs 37, 39, and 40 of the court's May 22, 2020, supervisory order shall apply to proceedings covered by this supervisory order. Paragraph 40 of the May 22 order provides: "Peaceable possession. Although Iowa Code section 648.18 provides that '[t]hirty days peaceable possession with the knowledge of the plaintiff after the cause of action accrues is a bar to this proceeding,' the court clarifies that the section 648.18 bar does not apply where the plaintiff could not have initiated proceedings under chapter 648 due to a state or federal moratorium."

Questions Raised by Landlords 

As some landlords have asked, now that they are unable to challenge declarations, what is the recourse for a tenant who submits a declaration even when the statements contained therein are false? Unfortunately, landlords have virtually no recourse in Iowa. While the declaration expressly states that each tenant certifies the truthfulness of the matters therein pursuant to penalty of perjury under federal law and the penalty for perjury is a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years, the federal perjury statute does not provide for a civil right of action, and presumably, the appropriate federal authorities have neither the time nor desire to prosecute tenants for committing perjury in this regard. 

Finally, many are still asking - did the CDC overstep its authority and is its order even legal? Multiple lawsuits have now been filed by landlords challenging the CDC Order. More to come on this front, but as of now, the CDC Order has not been struck down by any court. 

Further information on the CDC order is covered in previous blog posts:

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