Iowa has perhaps the most stringent farm lease termination statutes.  This is due both to the specificity found in the statute and the lack of ability of the parties to agree to supersede some of the statutory requirements.  This stringency provides important protections for both landlord and tenant.

Professor Neil Hamilton explains the Constitutional basis for statutory farm lease termination procedures in Iowa.

The statutes addressing termination of farm tenancies in Iowa are provided below along with an explanation of some of the provisions and an analysis of relevant judicial decisions interpreting the statutes. Due to the length of the discussion below, a quick reference guide on lease termination in Iowa is also provided.

Statutes

562.5  TERMINATION OF FARM TENANCIES  In the case of a farm tenancy, the notice must fix the termination of the farm tenancy to take place on the first day of March, except in cases of a mere cropper, whose farm tenancy shall terminate when the crop is harvested.  However, if the crop is corn, the termination shall not be later than the first day of December, unless otherwise agreed upon.

562.6 AGREEMENT FOR TERMINATION   If an agreement is made fixing the time of the termination of a tenancy, whether in writing or not, the tenancy shall terminate at the time agreed upon, without notice.  Except for a farm tenant who is a mere cropper, a farm tenancy with an acreage of forty acres or more shall continue beyond the agreed term for the following crop year and otherwise upon the same terms and conditions as the original lease unless written notice for termination is served upon either party or a successor of the party in the manner provided in section 562.7, whereupon the farm tenancy shall terminate March 1 following.  However, the tenancy shall not continue because of an absence of notice if there is default in the performance of the existing rental agreement.

562.7 NOTICE — HOW AND WHEN SERVED.  Written notice shall be served upon either party or a successor of the party by using one of the following methods:
1.  By delivery of the notice, on or before September 1, with acceptance of service to be signed by the party to the lease or a successor of the party, receiving the notice.
2.  By serving the notice, on or before September 1, personally, or if personal service has been tried and cannot be achieved, by publication, on the same conditions, and in the same manner as is provided for the service of original notices, except that when the notice is served by publication no affidavit is required.  Service by publication is completed on the day of the last publication.
3.  By mailing the notice before September 1 by certified mail. Notice served by certified mail is made and completed when the notice is enclosed in a sealed envelope, with the proper postage on the envelope, addressed to the party or a successor of the party at the last known mailing address and deposited in a mail receptacle provided by the United States postal service.

Iowa farm lease termination procedures are governed by sections 532.5 through .8 of the Iowa Code.  These statutes provide a great deal of protection for farm tenants. Notice of termination must be given in writing on or before September 1 of the last year of the lease agreement, and if notice is not provided the lease will continue for another year. Further, the notice must set March 1 as the date of termination.

This notice increases the tenant’s ability to plan for the near-term future.  The tenant is given time to harvest the year’s crops, make decisions regarding fall planting and is given some time to find substitute land to farm in the next year.  However, it should be noted, the statutes may not provide sufficient tenure stability to encourage long-term sustainable practices.

In fact, the continuation of year to year tenancies after the initial term likely creates a system with little to no long-term tenure security as the landlord may simply terminate the lease each year on or prior to September 1 to enable negotiation of new lease terms for the following year.  To address this issue a farm lease could create a multiple year term, such as three years or longer, that renews for the same extended term if notice is not given a year in advance.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to the notice of termination requirements.  The statutes expressly do not apply to share croppers, farm tenancies involving less than 40 acres, or where there is default of performance of the existing lease agreement.  Share croppers are excluded as they are not considered to have an interest in the property, but rather merely work for a share of the crop.  Share cropping should not be confused with a crop-share lease, and the division of the crop after harvest is not indicative of the type of relationship.  Rather, determination of whether someone is regarded as a tenant or a cropper is decided by examining the intentions of the parties, taking all of the circumstances regarding the agreement into account.[1]

The exception for lease arrangements regarding less than 40 acres is fairly straight-forward.  However, the exception for cases involving default of the existing agreement is more complicated.  The necessary procedures for termination due to a breach depend on the nature of the breach.  For instance, a breach stemming from a failure to pay rent gives the landlord the option of terminating the lease without statutory notice.[2]  However, other breaches may allow a landlord to terminate the lease early, but perhaps still have to provide notice.[3]  Thus, in general, it is best to provide notice as to the nature of the breach and the grounds for termination.

There are also common law exceptions.   The parties are free to agree to terminate the lease early.[4]  If the parties do so there is no need for notice of termination as there is no tenancy to terminate.[5]  Such an agreement may be oral or written, though as in nearly all matters, a written agreement is preferable.  Waiver and estoppel also provide an exception.[6]  For instance, where the tenant relates to the landlord that they will not be continuing the lease the following year or that the notice is not required and the landlord relies on this information to their injury, by perhaps leasing the property to another party, the notice requirements may be set aside for the sake of equity.  Further, the courts have provided an exception to the notice requirements where the tenant abandons or surrenders the leased property.  This requires a showing of the intent of the party to absolutely relinquish the premises by an actual or symbolic act or the intent to surrender through mutual agreement.[7]  A tenant that continues to exercise some form of control over the property has not abandoned or surrendered the property.[8]

How to Give Notice

According to section 562.7 notice may be given in three ways.  First, the notice may be given through delivery and signed acceptance.  Notice may also be given through personal service or publication.  Finally, notice can be served by mail.  When served by mail the notice is considered complete when it is sealed in an envelope with the correct postage and the last known address and is deposited in a mailbox.

Tenancies Under a Life Estate

562.8  TERMINATION OF LIFE ESTATE — FARM TENANCY.  Upon the termination of a life estate, a farm tenancy granted by the life tenant shall continue until the following March 1 except that if the life estate terminates between September 1 and the following March 1 inclusively, then the farm tenancy shall continue for that year as provided by section 562.6 and continue until the holder of the successor interest serves notice of termination of the interest in the manner provided by section 562.7.  However, if the lease is binding upon the holder of the successor interest by the provision of a trust or by specific commitment of the holder of the successor interest, the lease shall terminate as provided by that provision or commitment.  This section does not abrogate the common law doctrine of emblements.

There are slightly different rules regarding the end of a life estate in property under a farm lease.  The law does not traditionally allow the holder of a life estate to transfer possession beyond the life tenant’s interest.  However, the Iowa legislature decided it would be unfair and harmful to allow the successor of a life estate to terminate a tenancy granted by the life tenant without notice.  Thus, under section 562.8, a lease agreement between a life tenant and a tenant farmer is considered terminated on the March 1 following the end of the life estate, regardless of the lease term.  However, if the life estate ends between September 1 and the following March 1 the tenancy continues under the usual rules for farm tenancy as set forth in section 562.6.  These rules establish protection for the successor of the life estate and the tenant farming the land.  The successor will not be bound by a lease for a term of years and is not subject to providing notice of termination if the life estate expires before September 1, which allows the successor time to be notified of the status of their interest in the property.  The tenant’s interests in the year’s crop and notice of the need to find new land to farm or enter a new lease agreement with the life estate successor are also protected through this statute.

Common Law

The Iowa Supreme Court in Benschoter v. Hakes found these statutes to be Constitutional and interpreted their purpose as attempting to improve tenure stability and prevent soil exploitation and waste.[9]  After determining the constitutionality of the statute and discerning its purpose, the court also declared in Pollock v. Pollock, “It is our duty to construe the statute liberally.”[10]

Here are some of the matters the courts have clarified.  First, the statutes have been deemed to apply to all leases, including oral, as well as written, and holdover tenancies, as well as tenancies for a period of years.[11]  Also, the parties may not agree in the original lease terms to disregard the notice requirements in the statutes.[12]  However, as is discussed under the exceptions, the parties may agree to terminate the lease sometime after its formation, rendering notice of termination unnecessary.  In addition, the courts have asserted that in case of forfeiture of the landlord’s rights in the property after the statutory notice date for termination the tenancy will continue for the following year.[13]  This is similar to the statutory requirements regarding notice of termination for tenancies under an extinguished life estate.  It should also be noted the statutory requirements have been held to apply to both landlord and tenant.[14]


[1] Dopheide v. Schoeppner, 163 N.W.2d 360, 362-63 (Iowa 1968) (listing some factors as whether the farmer lived on the premises, “who has the right of possession; who furnishes the supplies; who divides off the crops; how long the agreement extends; the extent of control exercised by the owner; and if the agreement is in writing.”).

[2] Riggs v. Meka, 17 N.W.2d 101, 104 (Iowa 1945).

[3] McElwee v. DeVault, 120 N.W.2d 451, 454 (Iowa 1963) (holding the landlord was able to cancel a three year lease after the first year due to violations of the provisions of the lease regarding the manner in which the property was to be farmed, but the landlord did provide notice of the violations in June and notice of termination in August.  The court noted it would have been inequitable for the landlord “to oust the tenant in the middle of the crop year.”).

[4] Crittenden v. Jensen, 1 N.W.2d 669, 670 (Iowa 1942).

[5] Crittenden v. Jensen, 1 N.W.2d 669, 670 (Iowa 1942).

[6] Smith v. Coutant, 6 N.W.2d 421, 424-26 (Iowa 1942).

[7] Read v. Mincks, 176 N.W.2d 192, 194 (Iowa 1970).

[8] Read v. Mincks, 176 N.W.2d 192, 194 (Iowa 1970).

[9] 8 N.W.2d 481, 486-487 (Iowa 1943).

[10] 72 N.W.2d 483, 486 (Iowa 1955) (citing Dethlefs v. Carrier, 64 N.W.2d 272, 275 (Iowa 1954).

[11] Pollock v. Pollock, 72 N.W.2d 483, 486 (Iowa 1955).

[12] Benschoter v. Hakes, 8 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Iowa 1943).

[13] Ganzer v. Pfab, 360 N.W.2d 754 (Iowa 1985).

[14] Leise v. Schiebel, 67 N.W.2d 25, 28 (Iowa 1954).