UISG pushes for move-in checklist to protect student renters

A move-in checklist is used by tenants to document the conditions of their new apartment upon moving in. UI students have advocated for making them mandatory.


Alyson Kuennen

Photo illustration by Alyson Kuennen for The Daily Iowan

Caleb McCullough, News Reporter

As the academic year comes to a close and students prepare for their leases to end, some may not get their full deposits back and not receive much explanation. University of Iowa Student Government and other advocates hope to remedy that in the future by making a move-in checklist mandatory by law.

A move-in checklist is a document that can be used by tenants to record the conditions of an apartment upon moving in, UISG City Liaison Gustave Stewart said. They help to increase transparency between tenants and landlords.

Submitting a move-in checklist is a voluntary process in Iowa, but lists are legally required in 14 other states.

Stewart came up with a proposal for putting a move-in checklist into law after he conducted a rental survey in spring 2018 when working on the UISG renters’ guide.

The survey indicated that 23 percent of students had received none of their deposit back upon the end of the lease, and 38.3 percent said they felt they should have received more of their rental deposits.

Students can be especially susceptible to unfair deposit deductions, Stewart said, because many of them are first-time renters and don’t know the correct procedures for renting. 

“I was a first-time renter, and I’m not really going to know that I’m supposed to document all the conditions, because I had never rented,” he said. “And I think that’s the case for the entire population.”

Although students can fill out checklists on their own, Stewart said, putting them into law would make them more effective.

“There’s really no incentive for the landlord to distribute the move-in checklist,” he said. “Many individuals may not be aware that they’re supposed to fill in the checklist.” 

RELATED: Students advocate for state funding, UI support during Hawkeye Caucus 

At the Hawkeye Caucus on April 9, move-in checklist legislation was one of the things students with the organization spoke to legislators about at the State Capitol.

Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, said he had spoken with students about the issue, but no legislation was filed during the current session. He said he had spoken to legislators on both sides of the aisle who have showed interest in addressing the students’ concerns.

“I can’t say it has bipartisan support, but it certainly at this point has bipartisan curiosity as to whether or not something should be done,” Lohse said.

Student Legal Services recommends that all students fill out rental checklists upon moving into their new apartment, Assistant Attorney Amanda Elkins said.

The move-in checklist provided by the service checks for the condition of the ceilings, walls, windows, appliances, and more. The service recommends that tenants submit their move-in checklists to their landlords within seven days of moving in.

“We want students to document the condition they found the apartment in,” Elkins said. “Really so that when they leave, they’re going to do a move-out checklist, and we want them to be similar.”

Elkins said that the legal service starts seeing students come in with issues around rental deposits starting in August, and she estimates that more than 100 students come in every year with complaints about a withheld rental deposit.

Despite the high numbers, Elkins said, the students who come in are only a small number of total students affected. Elkins said students often don’t consider a deposit deduction a big deal and don’t want to bother with pursuing action to fight the charge.

“It may be a totally bogus deduction, but it’s not worth their time,” Elkins said. “And then the landlords keep doing it because they know they can get away with it.”