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Des Moines RHF Housing, Inc. v. Spencer

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 20, 2018

DES MOINES RHF HOUSING, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ALVIN SPENCER, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Odell G. McGhee, II, District Associate Judge.

         Des Moines RHF Housing, Inc. appeals the dismissal of its petition for forcible entry and detainer filed against Alvin Spencer.

          Jason M. Craig of Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Jason R. Burdick of Iowa Legal Aid, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         Des Moines RHF Housing, Inc. seeks relief from the dismissal of its petition for forcible entry and detainer (FED) filed against Alvin Spencer. The magistrate held the FED action was barred by the peaceable possession defense set forth in Iowa Code section 648.18 (2017) and dismissed the petition. The district court affirmed the magistrate's decision. On RHF Housing's application, the supreme court granted discretionary review. The supreme court transferred the matter to this court for resolution.

         "In a discretionary review of a small claims decision, the nature of the case determines the standard of review." De Stefano v. Apts. Downtown, Inc., 879 N.W.2d 155, 164 (Iowa 2016) (quoting GE Money Bank v. Morales, 773 N.W.2d 533, 536 (Iowa 2009)). An action for forcible entry and detainer "shall be tried as an equitable action." Iowa Code § 648.5(1). "Our review of a forcible entry and detainer action, which is tried in equity, is de novo." Capital Fund 85 Ltd. P'ship v. Priority Sys., LLC, 670 N.W.2d 154, 156-57 (Iowa 2003) (citation omitted). "The interpretation of statutes is reviewed for errors at law." Horizon Homes of Davenport v. Nunn, 684 N.W.2d 221, 224 (Iowa 2004) (citing State v. McCoy, 618 N.W.2d 324, 325 (Iowa 2000)).

         The record reflects the following. RHF Housing, a supportive housing for persons with disabilities facility under 42 U.S.C. § 8013, served Spencer with a "Notice of Nonpayment of Rent, Notice of Termination of Lease, and Notice to Quit" on May 15, 2017. The notice demanded unpaid rent from April and May 2017 and stated, "[if] the full amount of past due rent is not paid by May 22, 2017 (the 'cure date'), then the Lease Agreement shall terminate on June 21, 2017 ('the termination date') without any further notice to you." On June 22, 2017, RHF Housing filed its FED action against Spencer and averred, "Landlord terminated Defendant's lease effective June 21, 2017 for non-payment of rent." After a hearing the magistrate determined:

The Court finds the cause of action for nonpayment of April rent accrued on April 2, 2017. On May 2, 2017, Plaintiff was barred from filing an action based on non-payment of April rent because they allowed Defendant to remain on the premises peaceably for thirty days.
However, a new cause of action accrued on May 2, 2017, when Defendant failed to pay May rent by May 1, 2017. Had the three-day notice only requested May rent, to cure, Plaintiff would not be barred from bringing this action. For these reasons, the Court finds peaceable possession, pursuant to Iowa Code Section 648.18, barring Plaintiff from bringing this action.

         The district court affirmed this ruling and found the action brought by RHF Housing was an action for non-payment of rent, not an action against a holdover tenant after the termination of a lease.

         An action for forcible entry and detainer is an action for possession of property. See AHEPA 192-1 Apartments v. Smith, No. 11-0167, 2011 WL 6669744, at *5 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 21, 2011). "The only question in a forcible entry and detainer action is whether the defendant is wrongfully detaining possession of the real property at the time of the trial." Bernet v. Rogers, 519 N.W.2d 808, 811 (Iowa 1994) (citing Rudolph ...


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