As the home of the University of Iowa, Iowa City sees a large influx of people moving to town each year. Many become first-time renters in our City.
To make this experience a little less daunting, we have compiled a list of helpful tips people should know before, during, and after renting a property. Watch this rental guide video and follow the tips below.
Be aware when shopping for
a rental home
So, you’re ready to look for your first apartment. Be aware of the following red flags in order to avoid a poor rental experience.
- Landlord refuses to give you a copy of the lease to review.
- Landlord puts pressure on you to sign immediately.
- Landlord refuses to show the apartment you are interested in renting and gives excuses for why the rental unit can’t be shown, such as "the owner is traveling" or "the landlord is sick."
- Landlord does not have a valid rental permit issued by the City. To check for a valid permit for Iowa City properties, search our permit database.
Is this the right property for you?
- Make sure to walk through the unit with the landlord or property manager. Double check the address to make sure you’re visiting the unit you will be leasing. Make sure the amenities match what was advertised.
- Consider the parking situation for you and guests. Do you need a parking permit? How many spots are available? On-street parking only? Remember you can't store your vehicle on the street during vacations and breaks. Violators can be towed.
- Ask current tenants in the apartment complex how much they pay in utilities. Utility costs can vary greatly depending on the type and age of housing.
- Drive by the unit at night. Is it secure? Does it have adequate lighting? Will you be comfortable living there?
- Ask the landlord how maintenance issues are addressed. Do they have staff on call? What is the expected response time?
- Research the landlord and their properties online. Have there been consistent maintenance issues, non-responsive property management, alleged misconduct, etc.
Once you find a suitable property
- Review and understand the lease before you sign it. Always keep your lease, as you may need to refer to it when issues arise.
- Know what utilities the landlord pays and what you are responsible for, such as water, garbage, gas, electric, cable, and internet.
- Verify the start and end date of the lease.
- Verify the rent charged and if pro-rated if not a full month.
- Review all lease terms. The lease should cover items such as what types of damage you are responsible for, what maintenance you must perform, such as mowing or snow removal, are you allowed to sublet your room/unit, can you have pets, can you add roommates, etc.
After you sign the lease and move in
- At move in, document any and all damages/problems that you see. Take date stamped photos of the unit. Make a copy for your records and provide a copy to your landlord within the first 7 days of the lease term.
- Get renter’s insurance. You should get renters insurance because it protects your belongings from theft or property damage. The landlord’s policy does not cover your personal belongings. If you have car insurance, you might want to check with the company to see if rentals can be added to an existing policy. You may also be added to your parent’s homeowner’s insurance (check with their company’s policy for details). The benefits of renter’s insurance are great, and the cost is usually low.
- Befriend your neighbors. When an issue arises, it is much easier to discuss with a neighbor to resolve if you know each other.
What if something goes wrong after you move in?
Invariably something will not work. The fridge, the oven, a leaking faucet, a window won’t open, etc. Here are some suggestions:
- Notify the property manager in writing. Let the property manager know the problem and the date it started.
- Follow up with a phone call.
- Depending on what it is, allow a reasonable time for the landlord to schedule and get the item repaired/replaced.
- If the item does not get repaired after you notify the landlord in a reasonable time, contact Neighborhood and Development Services to report the issue for Iowa City properties. If this is a code violation, the City can assist in enforcing the housing code. Contact us at 319-356-5135 or report online with our reporting app, ICgovXpress.
For more serious problems, review Iowa Legal Aid’s advice on how to get landlords to make repairs.
Where to go for help with legal issues
Campus office: G115 Iowa Memorial Union, Iowa City
Eligible low-income Iowans can access free legal help from Iowa Legal Aid for civil law problems, including housing. The website has helpful information on tenant rights.
Office: 1700 S. 1st Avenue, Suite 10, Iowa City, IA 52240
Fair Housing is a Right!
If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, report it by contacting the City of Iowa City Human Rights Office. You can file your housing complaint online.