A. WHEN CAN A LANDLORD EVICT A TENANT?
The landlord can evict a tenant for any one of three reasons:
- The term (usually one month or one year) for which the property was rented is over;
- The tenant is behind in the rent; or
- The tenant has breached (broken) some clause of the lease.
The landlord needs no reason to evict a tenant it the landlord gives the tenant proper notice that the landlord wants the property back at the end of the term.
B. WHAT IS THE PROPER EVICTION PROCEDURE?
The Landlord-Tenant Law of 1951 points out the only method for a landlord to evict a tenant. The Landlord-Tenant Law does not apply to people who are buying a home or who live in a hotel or rooming house.
- The Eviction Notice - The landlord must give the tenant written notice of the reason for the eviction and the date that the landlord wants the tenant to leave. Caution: A tenant with a written lease should read the lease carefully to see whether or not he/she has given up the right to receive this eviction notice. The eviction notice must be personally delivered to the tenant or posted on the dwelling. An eviction notice, sent by mail is probably not enforceable. A written lease may state how many days notice must be given by the landlord before the landlord can evict. It the lease does not state how much notice is required, the general rule is as follows: If the term has ended, or it the landlord claims the tenant has breached the lease, the landlord must give the tenant thirty (30) days notice if the lease is for less than one year (this is usually month-to-month), and ninety (90) days notice if the lease is one year or more. If the tenant is behind in the rent and has an oral lease with the landlord, the landlord needs to give only fifteen (15) days notice between April 1st and September 1st, but thirty (30) days notice between September 1st and April 1st. It the tenant is not out of the property by the end of the eviction notice, the landlord must follow the procedure through the District Justice's office as set forth in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 below.
- Complaint - The form that follows is a Landlord-Tenant Complaint. The landlord files the complaint with the appropriate District Justice's office, and the landlord receives a yellow copy of the Complaint. The pink copy of the Complaint will be served on the tenant by the Constable, who may hand the tenant the Complaint or tape the Complaint to the door of the property. The tenant will also get an orange copy of the same Complaint through the mail. The Complaint says that a hearing will be held at the District Justice's office on a particular day and time. The tenant should tell the District Justice if the tenant intends to come to the hearing and present his/her side of the case. The Complaint always requests possession of the property and may ask for back rent or damages as well. If the landlord is also suing for back rent or damages, see the section Suits for Money. If the tenant has a claim to file against the landlord, this claim, called a "counterclaim", may be filed before the hearing. Both Complaints will then be heard at the same time.
- The Hearing - At the hearing, both the landlord and the tenant will be put under oath to tell the truth. Either may have a lawyer to present his/her case. The landlord will then take the stand and present his/her case. When the landlord is finished testifying, the tenant can cross-examine the landlord -- in other words, ask the landlord any questions the tenant may wish to ask about the case. When the landlord is finished presenting his/her case, the tenant takes the stand and presents the tenant's side of the case. Again the landlord has the right to question the tenant after the tenant has presented his/her case. Both the landlord and tenant have the right to bring any papers, pictures, or other evidence which is important to prove their case. Either one can also bring any witnesses they may have.
The District Justice will decide whether or not the landlord is entitled to a judgement for possession of the property. If the landlord wins his/her case, he/she will get a judgement for possession and the tenant must move out. If the tenant wins, the tenant may stay. The District Justice may also decide whether or not either the landlord or the tenant owes the other any money. (See Suits for Money).
If either the landlord or the tenant does not agree with the decision the District Justice reaches at the hearing, an appeal can be taken to the Dauphin County Court House within thirty (30) days after the District Justice makes his decision. Either the tenant or the landlord will need a lawyer's help in filing this appeal. If either the landlord or the tenant does not attend the hearing he/she will receive notice from the District Justice which says what the District Justice's decision was and on what date the decision was entered.
- Order for Possession - If the landlord wins a judgement for possession, which means the tenant must move, the landlord can then enforce the judgement. This means that no sooner than fifteen (15) days after the District Justice makes his decision and enters the judgement for possession, the landlord can have the constable give the tenant an "Order for Possession". This Order for Possession is a notice telling the tenant that unless the tenant is out of the property by a date set on the notice (no sooner than fifteen (15) days after the date the tenant receives the notice) the Constable or Sheriff can forcibly set the tenant and his/her belongings out of the house or apartment. This is a total of at least thirty (30) days after the judgement for possession was entered.
If the Constable has to forcibly evict the tenant, and the tenant has not arranged for a place for his/her furniture and belongings, the Sheriff or Constable can store the furniture and belongings at a storage company at the tenant's expense. A tenant must pay any storage bill before getting his/her furniture and belongings back. If the tenant does not pay the storage bill or make arrangements regarding the furniture and belongings, they may be sold by the storage company to pay the storage bill.
THE LANDLORD MAY NOT HOLD THE TENANT'S FURNITURE ON PERSONAL BELONGINGS OR SELL THEM TO PAY BACK RENT.
If the tenant wants to appeal the District Justice's decision, the appeal must be filed within thirty (30) days after the judgement for possession has been entered by the District Justice. It is then possible to stop the eviction until after the appeal is heard in the Court of Common Pleas, although it may be necessary to post a bond unless the Court gives permission to waive the bond or to deposit rent instead of a bond. The process of appeal may take several months.
Tenant Defenses to Landlord's Eviction ActionWhenever the landlord sues the tenant, the tenant has the right to defend against the landlord. IF THE TENANT HAS A GOOD REASON TO DEFEND AGAINST THE LANDLORD'S SUIT, THE TENANT SHOULD MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO DO SO, EVEN IF THE LEASE SAYS THE TENANT HAS NO RIGHT TO DEFEND. IF THE TENANT DOESN'T GO TO THE HEARING, THE LANDLORD WINS BY DEFAULT.
- Non-payment of rent: Rent receipts are the best way to prove that rent has actually been paid. If the tenant used the repair and deduct procedure on page 15 the tenant must bring a copy of the receipt to the hearing. A tenant cannot defend an eviction action based on non-payment of rent because the tenant has withheld rent due to the landlord's failure to make repairs, unless the tenant has been placed on the City's Rent Withholding Program or unless the court finds the conditions of the home to be so bad that some or all of the rent did not become due under the new law of "implied warranty of habitability".
A tenant can stop an eviction based on non-payment of rent by paying the rent due, plus court costs, at any time before the Constable comes to the door to put the tenant out on the street.
Example: Mrs. Jones' rent is $100.00 per month. Mr. Smith the landlord, promised to fix the hole in the roof, but never did Mrs. Jones got angry and gave Mr. Smith only $50.00 until the root was fixed. Mr. Smith filed a complaint for possession of the property, charging Mrs. Jones with non-payment of rent.
RESULT: Mrs. Jones can only stop the eviction by paying an additional $50.00 and possibly court costs.
- Breach of the Lease: If a landlord has brought a complaint against the tenant and proved that the tenant has breached the lease, the tenant's only defense is to prove at the hearing that the tenant did not breach (break) the lease. For example: if the lease says "no pets" and the tenant brings a dog into the house or apartment, the landlord can claim that the tenant has broken or breached the lease. The tenant may be able to prove that the dog the landlord saw does not belong to the tenant, but perhaps belongs to a neighbor. Both the tenant and the landlord should take their lease, any other written papers, and any witnesses to the hearing to help establish their case.
- End of the term: At this time in Pennsylvania, there is no defense if the landlord claims that the term of the lease has ended. The landlord must give the tenant proper notice. The landlord's actions should not be in retaliation for any steps the tenant may have taken in the past to enforce the tenant's rights, such as reporting Housing Code violations
- Retaliatory eviction: If a tenant believes he/she is being evicted in retaliation for reporting Housing Code violations or exercising other legal rights, such as joining a tenant's organization, the tenant may want to see a lawyer. Although the general state law in Pennsylvania does not prohibit the landlord from evicting in retaliation, some local law may prohibit it and the law in many other states has changes so that the general law may change here, too.
C. WHAT ARE IMPROPER METHODS OF EVICTION?
Sometimes a landlord will tell a tenant to move right away, or next week, or threaten to get the Sheriff to throw the tenant out, change the locks, shut off the tenant's electricity, etc.
The landlord cannot legally do anything to evict a tenant other than to follow the procedures through the District Justice's office set out above. If the landlord tries any of these other methods, the tenant should see a lawyer immediately to protect the tenant's rights. When visiting an attorney, a tenant must always remember to take the lease, rent receipts, notices, complaints, and any other written documents that apply to the housing situation.
D. WHAT DO "MONEY JUDGEMENTS" MEAN?
The landlord can sue the tenant for back rent or damages. The tenant can sue the landlord to recover the security deposit, or to recover excess rent paid. When the plaintiff (the persons who brings the suit), either landlord or tenant, is claiming that the defendant (the person sued) owes the plaintiff money, the procedure through the District Justice's office is the same as when the landlord is claiming possession of the property, from the time of the original notice from the District Justice's office through the hearing.
A lawsuit in front of a District Justice can combine several different types of claims in one suit. For example, using the form set out above, a landlord could ask for possession of his property plus back rent plus damages to the property. The landlord need not ask for all of these things in one suit. The landlord could ask only for possession of the property in one suit. This does not mean that he/she gives up the right to bring a later suit for damages or back rent. Also, it a tenant does not raise a counterclaim against the landlord's lawsuit, the tenant can file a separate lawsuit at a later date. It the lawsuit is for money only, and does not contain a claim for possession of the property, the form used is similar to the one when the owner is claiming possession of the property, except that the title of the complaint is different. Instead of "Landlord and Tenant Complaint" in the upper right-hand corner, the title will be "Trespass and Assumpsit Complaint".
It the District Justice enters a judgement for money at the hearing, either the Plaintiff or the Defendant can appeal the decision to the Common Pleas court within thirty (30) days after the judgement is entered. Remember, if there is a judgement for possession, the appeal must be taken within thirty (30) days.
If no appeal is taken, then the person who owes the money must pay the amount of the judgement to the other person. If a person has a judgement against him/her, and he/she is unable to pay all at once, he/she may ask the District Justice to set up a payment schedule over a period of up to six (6) months. As long as the court agrees and he/she follows this payment schedule, the person he/she owes the money to cannot "execute", which is explained in the next paragraph.
Once a judgement has been entered, and not appealed, the person to whom the money is owed may "execute" on the judgement it the other person (the debtor) doesn't pay. One way to execute is to ask the District Justice and his Constable to help. The more common way to execute, or enforce the judgement, is to file the judgement at the County Court House. The judgement cannot be filed at the Court House until the appeal period (thirty 30 days) has run out. The person to whom the money is owed may then ask the Sheriff of the County to schedule a Sheriff's sale of the belongings of the debtor. Any money raised at the sale is used to pay the court costs and the judgement.
Every debtor is entitled to set aside $300.00 of his/her own property which the Sheriff cannot sell. The Sheriff cannot sell any property which does not belong to the debtor. The debtors are entitled to select their own $300.00 worth of property, and if the debtors do not select $300.00 worth, the Sheriff must set aside $300.00 worth of property for the debtor, or save $300.00 from the sale to give to the debtor. If the debtors are husband and wife, they are entitled to $300.00 each. or a total of $600.00 worth of property. The Sheriff can then sell any of the debtors' property that is left over at a public auction to the highest bidder. The Sheriff could also come back and start sale procedures again later if he has been unable to get enough money to satisfy the whole judgement.
E. EVICTION FROM PUBLIC HOUSING
Unlike a private landlord, the Housing Authority can only evict a tenant 1) if the tenant is responsible for creating or continuing a threat to the health and safety of other tenants or Housing Authority employee or 2) for "good cause". What amounts to "good cause" in justifying an eviction depends on the facts of the particular case, but certainly non-payment of rent could be considered "good cause". There can be no eviction based on the end of the term, as there is in a private landlord-tenant relationship.
Before an eviction, the Housing Authority must give the tenant fourteen (14) days written notice if the eviction is for non-payment of rent and thirty (30) days notice for all other reasons. In the notice, the Housing Authority must also state that the tenant has an opportunity to file a "grievance". This "grievance" is a written complaint filed by the tenant with the project manager, disagreeing with the Housing Authority's reasons for the proposed eviction. Once a grievance is filed, the Housing Authority must attempt to settle the matter informally, and then hold a hearing if this informal settlement proves Impossible. After the grievance procedure is completed, the Housing Authority must then file a Complaint with the District Justice to complete the eviction process.
The correct procedures for the grievance, and all of the rules and regulations of the project or leased housing, should be posted in the manager's office. It is a good idea for tenants to know these regulations and to refer to them when necessary
F. MOBILE HOME PARKS
Residents of mobile home parks in Pennsylvania have special legal rights under a law called the Mobile Home Park Rights Act Under this law, "residents of mobile home parks" are people who are buying or who already own their mobile home, and who rent space in a mobile home park containing at least three (3) mobile homes. The law does not cover people who are renting a mobile home. These people have rights under the Landlord and Tenant Act. (See sections A through D)
When Can You Be Evicted? (If the resident owns the mobile home and rents lot space). Residents of a mobile home park can be evicted only for the following reasons:
- Nonpayment of lot rent; or
- Two or more violations of park rules within a six-month period; or
- The park is closed or the park land is changed to a different use.
To evict a resident for nonpayment of rent, the park owner must notify the resident by certified mail that an eviction case may be started in court unless the resident pays the unpaid rent within 20 days of getting the notice (30 days if the notice is given from September 1 to March 31 ).
To evict the resident for breaking park rules or for breaking part of the lease agreement, the park owner must first notify the resident by certified mail Of the violation. The owner can bring an eviction case in court only if the resident breaks park rules or breaks the lease again within six months.
The park owner must get a court order to evict you. Even if the park owner gets a court order, you still have 30 days to appeal it to a higher court it you have a good reason (defense). The park owner cannot legally evict you in any other way. such as shutting off your utilities or padlocking your door.
Also, you cannot be evicted because you have exercised your rights under the Mobile Home Park Rights Act or any other legal right, and your landlord is getting back at you by trying to evict you.
Do You Have To Follow Park Rules?
Yes, but the rules must be fair and reasonable and the owner must:
- Give you a written copy of the rules; and
- Post the rules in a place in the park where all residents can read them; and
- Apply the rules equally to all residents.
Are There Other Restrictions on Park Owners?
Yes. Park Owners may not:
- Require you to buy underskirting, awnings, or other mobile home equipment from one particular supplier, but the owner may require a certain type of material and say how this equipment is to be installed;
- Prevent you from selling your mobile home; but the owner may reserve the right to approve the buyer as a resident of the park. However, the owner cannot unreasonably withhold approval;
- Charge any fees for moving your mobile home in or out of the park:
- Charge more than the actual cost to install or remove the mobile home;
- Charge a fee if you have visitors, unless the visitors stay overnight so often that they can be considered to be living with you;
- Charge any rent, fees, or service charges that you were not told about in writing at the beginning of the lease. However, the owner can increase rent and service charges by giving written notice to the resident and posting notice of the increase 30 days in advance, or in advance of the end of your lease term, whichever comes later.