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Iowa Legal Aid storm victims are living in unsafe conditions and, in some cases, paying rent

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 10:25 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa Legal Aid said people were living in unsafe homes and, in some cases, continuing to pay rent.

On Tuesday, Lisa Jordan of Shellsburg said she qualified for $2,800 in FEMA assistance, however, her landlord was still requiring her to pay rent on the mobile home and that land it sat on.

“It has been difficult not being able to live like you used to live before the storm,” she said.

Jordan was living in a small pop-up camper with her boyfriend and two young kids. The FEMA rental assistance was to be used to help pay for the first two months of rent in a new safe home.

“I’m using that money to help pay rent in my home that got devastated, damaged, and it’s no longer safe,” Jordan said.

Specialists with Iowa Legal Aid, a free legal advice service, said that was not how the money was supposed to be spent.

“After a disaster, if your rental unit is not safe for you to live then you have the right under Iowa law to terminate the rental agreement and to get back prepaid rent and your security deposit,” said Lisa Gaven, a Managing Attorney for Iowa Legal Aid.

Since the August storm, Iowa Legal Aid and its partners have set up a hotline and have heard similar stories from other people impacted by the storm. She said finding a new place to live could also be challenging after the storm.

“There’s been so much damage to the apartments, especially the low-income rental units in the city, it’s been very difficult for people to find apartments and places to stay,” she said.

Gavins said people like Jordan who are suffering in unsafe conditions need to know the law, even if the landowners were still trying to make up for their losses.

"It was a bad situation for them and we recognize that,' said Gaven. “This was not caused by their fault. They’re just as much of a victim of the storm as the tenants. Hopefully, landlords have insurance that will allow them to repair their properties and get back on track to be able to offer safe and habitable housing. The law states that if you can’t offer safe and habitable housing the tenant doesn’t owe you rent,” she said.

Iowa Legal Aid Derecho Hotline: (877)469-2259

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