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Iowa Tenants' Project
Appellate, District Court & Small Claims Litigation

Since 2010 Christopher Warnock and the Iowa Tenants' Project has been engaged in significant landlord tenant litigation in the Johnson County District Court, Iowa Court of Appeals and Iowa Supreme Court. The Tenants' Project has won significant legal victories for tenants and helped create a new body of law interpreting the Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, Iowa Code Chapter 562A. The Tenants' Project began by filing class actions in Johnson County District Court. Because class actions can take years, the Tenants' Project also filed small claims cases in Johnson County District Court.
Key Tenants' Project victories are DeStefano v. Apts Downtown and Caruso v. Apts Downtown 880 N.W.2d 465 (Iowa 2016) in the Iowa Supreme Court and Staley v. Barkalow in the Iowa Court of Appeals. Also important Iowa Supreme Court decisions are Kline v. Southgate Property Management and Walton v. Gaffey, with the Tenants' Project prevailing on some issues and the landlords prevailing on others.

Cases in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court

Staley v. Barkalow in Court of Appeals
Amor v. Houser in Court of Appeals

DeStefano v. Apts Downtown in Supreme Court
Caruso v. Apts Downtown in Supreme Court

Kline v. Southgate Property Management
Walton v. Gaffey

Class Action Summary Judgment & Class Certification Rulings in District Court

Staley v. Barkalow Summary Judgment & Class Certification Rulings
Amor v. Houser Summary Judgment & Class Certification Rulings
Conroy v. Apts Downtown Summary Judgment & Class Certification Rulings
Kline v. Southgate Summary Judgment & Class Certification Rulings
Walton v. Gaffey Summary Judgment & Class Certification Rulings

Small Claims Cases & District Court Appeals

DeStefano v. Apts Downtown in Small Claims & District Court
Caruso v. Apts Downtown in Small Claims & District Court

Ahmed v. Barkalow in Small Claims & District Court
Borer v. Clark in Small Claims & District Court

Janson v. Clark in Small Claims Court
Gaffey v. Sigg in Small Claims Court


Cases in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court

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The Tenants' Project has successfully appealed numerous cases, some originating as small cases cases, others as class actions.

Staley v. Barkalow 834 N.W.2d 873 (Iowa Ct. App. 2013) Amor v. Houser Supreme Court No. 14-0866

Elyse De Stefano v. Apts. Downtown 879 N.W.2d 155 (Iowa 2016).
Caruso v. Apts. Downtown 880 N.W.2d 465 (Iowa 2016).
Kline v. Southgate Supreme Court No. 15-1350
Walton v. Gaffey Supreme Court No. 15-1348
  • This case began as a class action. Here is the Summary Judgment and Class Certification ruling below which the landlord appealed. The issues included whether the Staley v. Barkalow should be overruled and whether liquidated damages are prohibited under the Iowa Landlord Tenant Act.

  • On June 1, 2016, the Supreme Court retained Walton v. Gaffey. Non-oral submission has been set for October 19, 2016.

  • Here are the final appellate briefs in Walton v. Gaffey:


  • Here is the Supreme Court's decision in Walton v. Gaffey. The Court held that tenants have a right to lease free from illegal provisions, rejecting the landlord's argument that illegal lease provisions needed to be enforced or result in monetary damages in order to be subject to punitive damages under Iowa Code 562A.11. The Court agreed with the landlord that if the IURLTA did not specifically require actual damages that the lease could include liquidated damages. Here is a brief that explains Kline and Walton.



Class Action Summary Judgment & Class Certification Rulings in District Court

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The Tenants' Project has successfully challenged many common lease provisions and obtained rulings that they were prohibited under the Iowa Landlord Tenant Act. In addition, the Tenants' Project has had multiple class actions certified.

Staley v. Barkalow LACV 073821 Amor v. Houser CVCV 075753 Conroy v. Apts Downtown LACV 72840
  • On July 8, 2015 Judge Kepros granted summary judgment and class certification. This also includes the lease so the specific illegal provisions can be seen. Judge Kepros found that the 2010-11 Apts Downtown lease included prohibited liability shifting clauses, automatic carpet cleaning, shifting repair responsibilities on tenants, and charged illegal fines, penalties and set fees including subleasing fees.
Kline v. Southgate CVCV 76694 Walton v. Gaffey CVCV 76909


Small Claims Cases & District Court Appeals

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As an alternative to class actions, the Iowa Tenants' Project filed a number of small claims cases on behalf of tenants, seeking rulings that a wide variety of commonly used lease provisions, including automatic carpet cleaning, were illegal under the Iowa Landlord Tenant Act, Iowa Code Chapter 562A.

Elyse De Stefano v. Apts. Downtown SCSC80575.
  • On June 10, 2013, Magistrate Judge Karen Egerton issued a 17 page Judgment holding that automatic carpet cleaning charge were illegal, that the landlord had failed to provide sufficient evidence for its cleaning charges, and that landlord had illegally charged the tenant for vandalism caused by an unknown third party. Judge Egerton found that the landlord had withheld the tenants' deposit in bad faith and assessed the maximum punitive damages, as well as $3,270 actual damages. Here is the magistrate's decision in Elyse De Stefano v. Apts. Downtown
  • On May 5, 2014 Judge Baumgartner partially affirmed and partially reversed the magistrate's decision in De Stefano in a lengthy ruling, that held that landlords were free to charge their tenants for vandalism and the criminal acts of unknown third parties, but could not have automatic carpet cleaning clauses in their leases. The Tenants' Project appealed and received discretionary review by the Iowa Supreme Court.

  • Here are further proceedings in DeStefano v. Apts Downtown before the Supreme Court

Caruso v. Clark SCSC081696.
  • On December 9, 2013 Judge Magistrate Egerton issued a 11 page Judgment finding for plaintiffs and awarding the punitive damages as well as attorney fees. This case involves illegally charging tenants for routine maintenance, overcharging for repairs and illegal use of 3 day notices for debt collection. Here is the Caruso Magistrate Ruling.

  • On September 26, 2014 Judge Russell issued a 13 page decision in the district court appeal of Caruso v. Clark. Judge Russell sustained the ruling of the magistrate, awarded the maximum possible damages of $5000 and found that the Clarks had wrongfully withheld the tenants' security deposit and that they had knowingly and wilfully used a prohibited lease provision, subjecting them to multiple sets of punitive damages. Here is the Caruso v. Clark District Court Appeal Decision.

  • Defendant Apts. Downtown appealed the district court ruling and sought discretionary review by the Supreme Court, strongly supported by Plaintiff due to the important issues presented. On November 5, 2015, the Supreme Court granted discretionary review in Caruso v. Clark now retitled Caruso v. Apts. Downtown, No. 14-1783.

  • Here are further proceedings in Caruso v. Apts Downtown before the Supreme Court

Ahmed v. Barkalow, SCSC 082744.
  • Trial was held on February 18, 2013. On May 15, 2013 Judge Magistrate Rose issued a 6 page Judgment/Order finding for plaintiffs.

  • On October 2, 2014 in Ahmed v. Barkalow, SCSC 082744, Judge Bergan issued an 11 page ruling on District Court appeal, affirming the decision of the magistrate at trial and finding for the plaintiffs. The most interesting ruling in this case was that Judge Bergan affirmed Magistrate Rose's ruling that the landlord was personally liable for damages in the case. Punitive damages for bad faith withholding were upheld, but the punitive damages for knowing and willful inclusion of prohibited lease provisions were reversed.
Borer v. Clark SC 081695
  • Filed March 26, 2012, this case challenges the Clarks' $600 pet fee and illegal use of 3 day notices for debt collection. On September 3, 2013 Judge Magistrate Egerton issued a 10 page Judgement finding for plaintiffs and awarding the maximum punitive damages as well as attorney fees.

  • Here is the Borer Ruling. Here is the September 7, 2013 Press Citizen story and September 13, 2013 Daily Iowan story.

  • On May 29, 2014 on District Court appeal, Judge Miller, who had earlier denied class action certification in Conroy v. Apts Downtown, issued a 10 page ruling on District Court appeal of this small claims case. The judge found that landlords could not charge fines, penalties or any charge other than actual damages and awarded $2500 in attorney fees. The judge reversed on the issue of punitive damages due to knowing and willful inclusion of illegal lease provisions.

Janson v. Clark SCSC 084082.
  • Originally filed June 13, 2013, petition and original notice filed September 9, 2013 this case involves illegally charging tenants for routine maintenance and overcharging for repair. At trial on December 9, 2013 plaintiffs attemped to introduce the decision in De Stefano v. Apts Downtown to show defendant was aware of illegal clauses in its lease. Defendants successfully argued at trial that after a lease is signed, the landlord's knowledge of an illegal provision is irrelevant. Other interesting issues with regard to the defense of advice of counsel and the award of statutory attorney fees for pro bono representation. This case is still pending.

Gaffey v. Sigg SCSC 081780
Please note that information provided by the Tenants' Project via this website or by phone or e-mail enquiry is only general information not detailed legal research which applies to the specific facts and law of your case. While information provided to an attorney by a prospective client has some legal protections, no attorney/relationship is formed with attorneys affiliated with the Tenants' Project until a retainer agreement is signed.