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BREACH: Breaking a law, or not doing what one is supposed to do under a contract of lease.

COMPLAINT: The legal written notice that begins a civil lawsuit. It gives the person who is charged with doing wrong (the defendant) all the important facts that will be part of the case against him/her

CONFESSION OF JUDGEMENT: The landlord may ask the tenant to sign a lease with a confession of judgement clause If a tenant signs a lease with this clause, the tenant agrees to let the landlord get a court order against the tenant without giving the tenant notice and a chance for a hearing to present the tenant's side of the story. The court order could say that the tenant owes the landlord money, or that the tenant must move out of the house or apartment. Confession of judgement clauses may also be found in other kinds of contracts, such as retail sales contracts and loan contracts. This procedure may not be enforceable in the courts. If you receive a notice that a judgement has been entered against you, see an attorney immediately.

COUNTERCLAIM: If one person (the plaintiff) brings a suit against another (the defendant), and the persons being sued (the defendant) has some claim or charge to make against the first (the plaintiff), that charge or claim against the person bringing the suit is called a counterclaim. For example, if a landlord sues a tenant for two months' back rent, the following are counterclaims the tenant can bring:

  1. Tenant counterclaims for $200.00 for the value of furnace repairs he/she had to make when the lease said it was the landlord's responsibility to keep the furnace repaired.

  2. Tenant counterclaims for $50.00 for the decreased value of his/her apartment because the heat did not work and the roof leaked, ruining the tenant's rug.

  3. Tenant counterclaims for damages suffered by his/her family when the landlord locked them out of their apartment and damaged some furniture when it was set out in the rain.

DEFENDANT: The person being sued.

DISTRAINT: Distraint is the name for the procedure when the landlord takes the tenant's furniture or other belongings and holds them as payment for rent the landlord claims the tenant owes. This procedure has been held unconstitutional and no landlord should do it (see discussion at page 00). The only procedure to collect back rent is to obtain a judgement and execute on it.

ESCROW ACCOUNT: An account which holds money for a special purpose. In a case of Rent Withholding escrow accounts, the Bureau of Codes Enforcement of City Hall holds the rent money that the tenant pays until certain conditions, such as making the necessary repairs, are met. See page 18.

EVICT: To force a tenant to move out of a house or apartment. The proper legal way to evict is set out on page 23.

EXECUTION: The legal way to enforce a judgement. If it is a "judgement for possession", the Sheriff or Constable, after giving warning, see page 24, may forcibly remove the tenant, the tenant's family, and the tenant's furniture and belongings, putting the furniture in storage at the tenant's expense. If it is a "judgement for money", the plaintiff (person bringing the lawsuit) may, thirty (30) days after the judgement is issued, file the judgement with the County Court House. The plaintiff then files a paper called "writ of execution", which is a paper which asks the Sheriff to schedule a Sheriff's sale of the tenant's belongings. The Sheriff can sell any goods which are not exempt (see "exemption") and use the money to pay the plaintiff the amount of the judgement plus costs.

EXEMPTION: Those belongings of a debtor that are free from "execution". Pennsylvania law says that no one can take all of another persons' belongings away from him/her by "execution" on a judgement for money arising out of contract. The "defendant", or debtor, can keep $300.00 worth of his/her belongings plus his/her personal clothing, a sewing machine, and personal papers. The "defendant", or debtor, can decide which belongings he/she will claim which total $300.00. A husband and wife are entitled to $300.00 each, or a total of $600.00.

HARASSMENT: A person commits a summary offense when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person:

  1. he strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects him to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same; or

  2. he follows a person in or about a public place or places; or

  3. he engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

IMPLIED OF HABITABILITY: A tenant's obligation to pay rent and the landlord's obligation to maintain habitable (safe, sanitary, and fit) premises depend upon each other. If the landlord violates his obligation to keep the premises in a reasonably fit condition, this may relieve the tenant from his obligation to pay part or ail of his rent until the landlord makes all necessary repairs.

JUDGEMENT FOR POSSESSION: The ruling of a court, or a court order, that a person in a suit is entitled to possession of certain property i.e., to have the right to be in the property In a landlord-tenant suit, either the landlord or the tenant may be awarded the judgement of possession.

JUDGMENT FOR MONEY: A ruling of the court, or a court order, that one person in a suit owes the other person a certain amount of money. In landlord/tenant cases. these judgements are most often for back rent, damages. or return of a security deposit.

LEASE: The agreement or contract between a landlord and tenant for the possession of the house or apartment being rented. Every landlord and tenant has a lease. The lease can be oral (spoken) or in writing (see page 4).

NATURAL WEAR AND TEAR, NORMAL WEAR AND TEAR: Even with reasonable and ordinary use, most things will wear out and lose value. This loss of value is called natural wear and tear or normal wear and tear.

PLAINTIFF: The person bringing the lawsuit, the person who is suing the defendant.

SUBLET, SUBLEASE: It the tenant rents the house or apartment to another tenant, the contract or agreement between the first tenant and the second tenant is called a sublease. The first tenant still has responsibility under the original lease unless the landlord agrees to accept the second tenant as a substitute for the first. If the landlord does not agree, the first tenant is still responsible to the landlord for any unpaid rent or any damages to the property. Of course the first tenant can then sue the second tenant to recover the back rent or damages.

TERM: The period of time which the tenant is entitled to be in the house or apartment under the lease. If there is an oral lease, the term is usually one (1) month. and called month-to-month or year-to-year with the rent being paid in installments each month