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April 1, 2006

Can Public Bodies Negotiate in Private for the Purchase of Real Estate?

How does Iowa's Open Meetings law operate when public bodies are purchasing real estate?

When private parties negotiate a real estate transaction, they do not generally "show their cards" to the other side at every step of the way. What about public bodies subject to Iowa's Open Meetings law (Iowa Code ch. 21), such as a city council or county board of supervisors? Are they required to negotiate the purchase of real estate in full public view?

Public bodies subject to Iowa's Open Meetings law must fully disclose to the public how they spend public funds to purchase real estate, but, for a brief period of time, they may keep some negotiations private -- under very limited circumstances. (See Iowa Code sec. 21.5(1)(j)).

A public body may vote in open session to go into a closed session in connection with the purchase of real estate if both of the following are true:

  • The body will go into closed session to discuss the purchase of particular real estate and not to generally discuss whether or when to purchase real estate.
  • The body reasonably expects that premature disclosure of the discussion could increase the price the body would have to pay for that particular property.

In addition, as soon as the real estate transaction discussed in closed session is completed, all minutes and tapes of the closed session must be disclosed to the public.

Remember: Public bodies may conduct some real estate purchase negotiations privately, but only under very limited circumstances - and they must disclose all details when real estate transactions are completed.

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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