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HF 161 – The Occupancy Bill

The “Occupancy Bill” (and Affordable Housing) is now HF161 (formerly HSB 25).  It passed the House today! – March 10, with a vote of 73-26.   HF 161 now goes to the Senate where it should be attached on the calendar to the companion bill, SF 458.

SF 458 is an amended version of the bill.  We prefer HF161, as is.

Please ask your Representative and Senator to support “The Occupancy Bill” in the HF161 version.  

This is the 2015 version of the legislative initiative which is in response to cities creating ordinances that cap the number of unrelated adults allowed to reside in a single residential unit.  Such ordinances ignore how many adults would otherwise be allowed to occupy the dwelling, were an objective standard be the basis for occupancy, such as square feet as specified in the IPMC (International Property Maintenance Code).

This page offers a compilation of resources and anecdotal insights about this initiative.

Passage of the bill has been of interest to Rental Property Owners and  Managers since 2012.     The legislature has been increasing its level of support for passage over those last three years.  When one breaks down the facts, particularly removing subtle, and potentially fear-inducing distortions of the truth, few arguments remain which seem defensible.

The bill has been known as HF 2331, HF 184, and HSB9,  in 2014, 2013, and 2012, respectively. 

The IaREIA and Iowa Landlord Association does not support discriminating against those in the “I need to rent” class.  Do some of our members stand to benefit from passage? Sure, but only a handful.  The people who will benefit the most are the rental residents who desire to share expenses.  

Therefore, we believe this form of discrimination needs to be stopped and 2015 is the year to do it.   The demographics in Iowa are shifting; increasing levels of single adults, greater diversity in cultural backgrounds,  more single parents with children, more elderly, more low and moderate income, more young people actually wanting to live in the city, and more investors wanting to invest in Iowa Real Estate yet confused by various idiosyncrasies of city “home rule”.   

When it comes to housing, protection for access should be similar to what is provided for those with disabilities by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) with commercial structures; uniform and consistent practices encourage investment rather than discouraging it.   


HSB 25 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee January 28, 2015, with a 19-2 margin.  It has since been assigned Bill Number HF161.  Real estate investor members of both the Iowa Landlord Association and Landlords of Iowa, believe it passed for good reason — it’s a fair and balanced piece of legislation for Iowans.

The bill passed 17-4 out of the House Judiciary in 2013 and passed 15-0 out of the Senate Judiciary in 2012.

Unlike with the issue of same-sex marriage, where the Iowa Supreme Court reached a decision to protect a class of adults by 7-0 unanimous decision (ending same-sex marriage discrimination), when the occupancy matter came before the Court in 2007, the home rule right of cities was upheld as of higher value than the constitutional rights of Iowans, albeit by a slim, one-vote margin.

The dissenting opinion in the 4-3 split decision provided a very strong argument that the practice is unconstitutional, in Iowa.   The gist of that dissenting opinion,  written by Justice David Wiggins, in “Ames Rental Property Association v. The City of Ames“, was “the court majority affirmed an Ames zoning ordinance that prohibited homes in some parts of the city to house more than three non-relatives. It was an effort to keep students out of some areas. Wiggins, however, believed that Ames made a weak case for such an invasive policy. “It is irrational for a city to attempt to promote a sense of community by intruding into its citizens’ homes and differentiating, classifying, and eventually barring its citizens from the community solely based on the type of relationship a person has to the other people residing in their home,” he wrote.   (see Todd Dorman, Cedar Rapids Gazette, April 1, 2014).

We concur with the minority opinion.  Jim Nervig, Attorney at Law, states his views clearly to Joe (Kelly) and Mike (Triplett), Lobbyists for two rental property management groups, that he agrees the minority opinion (email message dated Feb 13, 2015, used with permission).

Only a few cities seek to support these types of restrictions (primarily college towns, yet a few others have either followed suit, or are attempting to do).  It’s a bit of a hot potato, as this article posted by Gavin Aronsen of the Ames Tribune on March 7, 2015, exemplifies (“Baltimore, Activist Spar over Occupancy Bill“), as does the email dialogue referenced in the article and posted here.

Thus, our official association position is:  Allowing discrimination in housing based on the familial, or non-familial status of the adult occupants, further erodes a valuable right of ownership for Iowans who own rental property.   

Protecting rights for property owners who live in the property, if they are vested in title, but not for a resident who is not vested in title, is blatantly discriminatory. Contrary to the opinion of some who are underinformed, our bill does nothing to change existing zoning restrictions, nor does it limit the rights of neighbors to ask for enforcement of existing noise, nuisance or right to peaceful enjoyment ordinances .  

We encourage support for passage of HF 161, as written.

—– —– —– —– —– Additional History of the Bill and Logical Analysis —– —– —– —–

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