Iowa City landlord-tenant disputes dominate UI Student Legal Services agenda

University of Iowa Student Legal Services said 42 percent of their business deals with landlord-tenant disputes.


Jerod Ringwald

Emily Manders poses for a portrait on Sunday, May 16, 2021.

Sabine Martin, News Editor

In August 2020, Iowa City resident Emily Manders looked at her utilities bill and saw an abnormally high payment. Manders said Apartments at Iowa refused her a full reimbursement after being charged for her neighbor’s utilities bill.

“It just sucks,” Manders said. “If I had not been looking at my electricity bills, I would have never known that they were taking advantage of me and doing this.”

From last August to March 2021, Manders said she was charged a total of about $300 over her own utility bills.

“They’ve only agreed to pay back me like $200, but it’s still $100 lost,” Manders said.

Manders said she tried to work with the City of Iowa City, but city employees stopped answering her calls after a couple of days. She said she also has been in contact with the Iowa City Tenants Union and Iowa Legal Aid.

“[The city] said it was a civil issue and that I had to go sue them, but I can’t afford a lawyer,” Manders said. “I’m just kind of running out of options slowly.”

Director of University of Iowa Student Legal Services Amanda Elkins, who is also an attorney, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that in fiscal year 2020, 42 percent of Student Legal Services’ intake appointments were landlord-tenant related.

She wrote that the most common complaints are maintenance concerns and disputes over security deposit returns.

Manders said she’s heard renters’ issues in her social circles about prominent Iowa City rental companies.

“There are so many complaints,” Manders said. “This is not an isolated issue now.”

Steve Rackis, the Housing Administrator for Iowa City’s Housing Authority program, said the UI has a large impact on the rental housing market in Iowa City because landlords can charge whatever price they deem necessary to students.

“That drives rental housing prices up. If wages don’t go up accordingly, then people’s wages are not supporting the cost of housing,” Rackis said. “So, you have an affordable housing issue.”

Student Legal Services recommends that renters tour the actual unit they want to rent and read the entire lease before signing, Elkins wrote in an email to the DI.

“We also recommend that students meet with a lawyer of their choosing to review the lease before signing. Student Legal Services provides free lease reviews,” Elkins wrote.

Manders said she graduated from the UI in May, so she had time to call the city and regularly speak with Apartments at Iowa.

“If I was a full-time student, I wouldn’t have time to follow people around, so it’s just frustrating how these companies take advantage of you and don’t care about you,” she said.

Apartments at Iowa declined to comment to the DI.