GARY N. PORTER and LORI PORTER, Appellees,
RICHARD L. HARDEN and JANICE HARDEN, Appellants.
review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Wayne County, Paul R.
owners seek further review of a court of appeals decision
that found a farm tenancy existed and therefore reversed a
district court judgment granting them possession of this
property. DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS VACATED; DISTRICT
COURT JUDGMENT AFFIRMED.
Richard L. Harden and Janice Harden, Lineville, pro se
W. Norris, Corydon, for appellee.
case requires us to determine whether a tenant's decision
to graze a single horse on the property where the tenant
resides is enough to establish a farm tenancy and trigger the
special termination protections of Iowa Code sections 562.5
through 562.7. Reading the statute as a whole, we conclude
that land which is not devoted primarily to the production of
crops or the care and feeding of livestock cannot be the
foundation for a chapter 562 farm tenancy. Therefore, we
affirm the judgment of the district court and vacate the
decision of the court of appeals.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
essential facts are undisputed. For twenty-four years,
Richard and Janice Harden lived in a home in Wayne County.
Gary and Lori Porter owned this six-acre property. At some
point, Richard Harden filed a lawsuit claiming he had an oral
agreement to buy the property from Gary Porter, but the
district court ruled against him, and in 2014, the court of
appeals affirmed this ruling. See Harden v. Porter,
No. 12-2293, 2014 WL 969970 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 12, 2014).
on January 23, 2015, the Porters served the Hardens with a
thirty-day notice seeking to terminate the Hardens'
tenancy of the property. At the conclusion of the thirty
days, the Porters followed up with a three-day notice to quit
and a forcible entry and detainer (FED) action. The Hardens
filed an answer in the FED action, alleging that they had a
farm tenancy and the Porters had not complied with the legal
requirements for terminating a farm tenancy. See
Iowa Code §§ 562.5-.7 (2015) (requiring written
notice of termination of a farm tenancy to be served on or
before September 1 for termination the following March 1).
The Hardens specifically alleged that they "occupied the
property for agricultural purpose."
addition, the Hardens alleged in their answer that the entire
property consisted of nine acres and the Porters had not
sought to terminate the west three-acre tract that another
party-not the Porters- owned. Further, the Hardens filed a separate
action seeking relief under Iowa Code chapter 560 for various
improvements they had allegedly made to the six-acre
property, including $23, 435 for rendering the residence
habitable, $24, 950 for erecting a metal shed, $25, 080 for
providing valuable labor and materials to Gary Porter, and
$11, 765 for building and installing an outdoor wood furnace.
district court held a hearing in the FED action on March 24.
The parties stipulated that there had been no actual rental
agreement, that the Hardens were residing on the premises and
kept one thirty-eight-year-old horse there, and that the
Porters had served a thirty-day notice to terminate the
district court granted the Porters' motion to have the
FED case docketed as an equity case rather than a small
claims proceeding. It then ruled that the Porters had
complied with the general requirements for terminating a
tenancy at will, and that "the keeping of one
38-year-old horse does not make this a farm tenancy."
The court therefore found that the Porters were entitled to
removal of the Hardens from the premises at issue. The court
ordered, however, that no execution or writ removal would
issue until the Hardens' action for alleged improvements
to the property had been resolved. See Iowa Code
Hardens appealed. They argued that "one older mare"
was sufficient to establish a farm tenancy. They also argued
that the FED action should not have been decided until their
action based on the improvements had also been resolved.
Lastly, they maintained that the owners of the other three
acres should have joined in the FED action and were necessary
transferred the case to the court of appeals. That court
found that under the unambiguous statutory language, one
pasturing horse was enough to establish a farm tenancy. It
reasoned that Iowa Code section 562.1A's definition of
"farm tenancy" indirectly incorporated Iowa Code
section 717.1's definition of "livestock, " and
the latter definition included "an animal belonging to
the . . . equine . . . species." Iowa Code §
717.1(4). On this basis, it found that "an"
animal-i.e., one animal- was sufficient for a farm tenancy.
The court of appeals also held that the exemption for farm
tenancies of less than forty acres "where an animal
feeding operation is the primary use of the acreage" did
not apply because the Hardens mainly used the property as a
residence, not an animal feeding operation. See Iowa
Code § 562.6. Hence, while conceding that "it may
seem absurd to deem this tenancy a farm tenancy, " the
court of appeals concluded the Porters had not complied with
the chapter 562 requirements for termination of the
Hardens' occupancy and reversed the district court's
granted the Porters' application for further review.
Standard of Review.
entry and detainer actions are equitable actions, and
therefore our scope of review is de novo. Iowa Code §
648.15; Horizon Homes of Davenport v. Nunn, 684
N.W.2d 221, 224 (Iowa 2004). "We give weight to the
district court's factual findings, but are not bound by
them." Schaefer v. Schaefer, 795 N.W.2d 494,
497 (Iowa 2011). When the issue requires statutory
interpretation, however, our review is for correction of
errors at law. See Horizon Homes of Davenport, 684
N.W.2d at 224.
to certain qualifications, to terminate a farm tenancy, Iowa
law generally requires written notice to be given on or
before September 1 with termination to occur the following
March 1. See Iowa Code §§ 562.5-.7. Our
present law derives from legislation enacted in 1939.
See 1939 Iowa Acts ch. 235, § 1 (now codified
as amended at Iowa Code §§ 562.5-.7). In a 1943
decision, we upheld the constitutionality of this legislation
and explained its justification as follows:
It is quite apparent that during recent years the old concept
of duties and responsibilities of the owners and operators of
farm land has undergone a change. Such persons, by
controlling the food source of the nation, bear a certain
responsibility to the general public. They possess a vital
part of the national wealth, and legislation designed to stop
waste and exploitation in the interest of the general public
is within the sphere of the state's police power. Whether
this legislation has, or will in the future, accomplish the
desired result is not for this court to determine. The
legislature evidently felt that ...