Not returning rental equipment in Iowa will soon be a criminal offense

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BETTENDORF, Iowa -- If you rent a tent, chainsaw, or any other piece of equipment, and you don't pay for it, you'll soon face stiffer penalties in Iowa.

Starting Saturday, July 1, 2017, Iowa law will allow rental store owners to pursue criminal charges against people who don't return equipment on time and refuse to pay the charges.

Previously, business owners' only option was civil action.

"Prior to that, I would have to then take them to court and try to get my money back from them that way, which, like I said, wasn't bringing much fruit back to us," said Casey Keller, store manager of K&K Hardware in Bettendorf.

Keller said some rental stores have lost thousands of dollars to scammers abusing the current system.

"The guys who know the law, they know it because they were abusing it," said Keller. "I know some people who have to travel 45 minutes to rent something because they've burnt all their bridges locally."

The new law expands Iowa's video rental statute to include all rental equipment. Although rental items are only a small fraction of K&K's business, Keller says the new law is still a victory.

"It wasn't a huge problem, but always at the end of the year, the dollars would add up. And not only the dollars of lost rental, but the time of me trying to chase it down through the court system," said Keller.

The owners of the rental equipment have to follow several steps before getting police involved, including sending a written notice.

The penalty for theft can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the value of the property.

Illinois passed a similar 'theft of services' law last year.