An eviction is a legal action initiated by the owner of a property or an authorized agent of the owner to force a tenant to move out of the property. A court ordered eviction is the only legal way a landlord may force a tenant to leave a rental property. A lawful eviction requires a court proceeding. The length of the process will vary depending on the circumstances of the eviction.
A landlord can bring an action to evict a tenant if:
- The tenant fails to pay rent,
- The tenant fails to move out at the end of lease term, or
- The tenant violates terms of the lease agreement.
Examples of violations of the lease agreement include:
- Consistent late payment of rent
- Damaging the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear
- Using the rental unit for purposes not permitted under the rental agreement (for example, operating a business, allowing unauthorized persons to live in the rental unit, etc.)
- Keeping a dog, cat, or other animal that is not a service animal when pets are not permitted in the lease
- Engaging in criminal activity
- Improper storage or disposal of garbage that attracts insects, rodents, etc.
- Failure to abide by the proper rules and regulations that are either in the lease, attached to the lease, or given at the signing of the lease
Before Proceeding With Eviction
If you believe that a tenant is going to contest an eviction, you may want to consider an alternative. You can try offering the tenant a financial incentive to move out of the leased premises.
A major factor that tenants often give as a reason why they cannot move is that they do not have the extra money to rent a moving truck or pay the security deposit for a new apartment. A small financial incentive may enable you to arrive at a compromise with the tenant rather than waiting for the eviction to play out in court. This could result in being able to move in new tenants more quickly. A lengthy legal process can be more expensive than offering an amount of money to the tenants to vacate the unit.
Order of Eviction Proceedings
Notice to Quit
A landlord begins the eviction process by giving the tenant a “Notice to Quit”. This notice can be posted on the tenant’s door or the landlord may hand it to an adult in the rental unit. This notice cannot be sent by regular or certified mail. Any notice that is only sent by mail can be considered void and may be argued as such in court.
The amount of time the landlord is required to give a tenant to vacate should be written in the lease. If the lease says five days, the tenant should be given at least five days. The lease may have a “Waiver of Notice” which states that the landlord does not have to give the tenant any prior notice.
Check the Eviction Timetable to see how much notice is required if it is not specified in the lease. Unless specified in the lease, the amount of notice required depends on the reason for the eviction.
The Notice to Quit must include the name of the landlord, name of the tenant, address of the rental property, the reason for the notice (such as failure to pay rent for a specific time period or for some other violation of the lease), and a date by which the landlord wants the tenant to vacate the rental property. The notice must be clear, decisive, and free from ambiguity.
What if the landlord does not give proper notice?
The assertion that a landlord did not give proper Notice to Quit as outlined in the lease or by Pennsylvania law is one of the most common reasons why landlords are unsuccessful in their first attempt to evict a tenant. If the tenant can demonstrate that the landlord failed to give proper Notice to Quit in accordance with the provisions in the lease, the Judge will likely dismiss the case and require the landlord to restart the eviction process giving the tenant proper Notice to Quit. Make sure that the Notice to Quit is also delivered to the tenant in the manner required in the lease (i.e. posting on tenant’s door).
What if the tenant does not move out by the deadline?
If the tenant does not move out by the end of the lease term or the deadline that you set in the Notice to Quit, you will have to file a landlord/tenant complaint with the Magisterial District Court.
You must follow the legal civil proceedings for evictions in Pennsylvania. “Self-help evictions” are illegal. It is impermissible to bypass the civil procedure and try to lock tenants out. A landlord is prohibited from turning off utilities, threatening tenants, blocking access to rental unit, removing windows and doors, or taking any other action to engage in a self-help eviction. Attempting to evict a tenant yourself, without a constable and a court order, can lead to a police report being filed against you. While the civil eviction procedure can be frustrating and time consuming, you can be held liable for damages to the tenant for engaging in a self-help eviction. Only a constable with an order of possession from the Court can remove and lock out a tenant.
Communicate with your tenant in writing during the eviction process and keep your communications factual. Avoid unnecessary face to face contact with the tenant unless you have a neutral third party present.
Filing a Landlord/Tenant Complaint at the Magisterial District Court
If the tenant has not moved within the time stated in the notice to quit and you wish to repossess the property, you must go to the Magisterial District Court in order to file a Landlord/Tenant Complaint. You can also seek reimbursement for past due rent. These issues can be processed on the same complaint.
You do not require a lawyer at the Magisterial District Court level and you can present your case without an attorney. You may want to contact a landlord organization or an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances so that you will know your rights and be prepared. You will have to pay all applicable court fees and filing fees. Keep in mind that attorney’s fee will not be recoverable unless it is expressly stated in your lease that the tenant is responsible for reasonable attorney’s fees should you prevail in the court proceeding.
After filing the landlord/tenant complaint, a court hearing will be set for seven (7) to fifteen (15) days after the complaint is filed. A hearing can be continued, or postponed, upon request if there is a reasonable need for a continuance.
Both parties will receive a copy of the landlord/tenant complaint from the Magisterial District Court via first class mail and the tenant will also have a copy served by a sheriff or a constable.
The Hearing at the Magisterial District Court
If you are late or fail to appear at the hearing, a judgment may be entered against you by default. Plan to arrive early because even if you are only a few minutes late, a judgment can be entered against you. Your presence is vital at the hearing. If someone other than the Court tells you that the hearing was canceled or postponed, check with the Court to determine if this is true. If you cannot go on the scheduled date of the hearing or an emergency arises, call the Magisterial District Court’s office as soon as possible before the court date and ask if the hearing can be continued to allow you to attend.
If you and the tenant come to an agreement before the court date or if someone other than the court tells you that “everything is taken care of”, plan to attend the hearing anyway or check with the Court to see if the hearing is still scheduled. See Q&A: Magisterial District Court for more information about the hearing and what to expect.
Any time before the hearing, the tenant can file a cross-complaint (or “counterclaim”) or assert any other claim against the landlord.
Presenting Your Case at the Hearing
- Be sure to bring a copy of the signed lease agreement with you!
- Rental payment records
- If there was any damage done to the apartment, you will want to have photographs which clearly show the damage.
- Copies of all correspondence with the tenant (including the Notice to Quit).
- Proof that you gave the Notice to Quit in accordance with the lease terms
- Copy of your rental license
- Witnesses (if witnesses do not agree to come voluntarily, you can ask the Magisterial District Court to issue subpoenas. There will be a cost associated with issuing subpoenas, however this is a recoverable cost.)
You will need to be prepared to defend yourself against any counterclaim the tenant may file against you.
- For example, if the tenant improperly withheld rent, you will want to show that the tenant did not give you reasonable time to make repairs. Show correspondence between you and the tenant which shows that you agreed to fix the problem within a reasonable period of time. Be able to show that the tenant refused to wait and improperly withheld rent.
- If the tenant withheld rent due to alleged uninhabitable conditions, be sure to have copies of code enforcement inspections showing that the property meets all local code requirements.
After the hearing, the Magisterial District Judge will either make a decision that day or within three (3) days. The Judge will issue a written Notice of Judgment. The Notice will tell you what type of judgment has been entered.
- Possession Granted if Money Judgment
- Possession Granted
- Possession Not Satisfied
- Money Judgment
If the Judgment is for Possession Granted if Money Judgment Not Satisfied (commonly referred to as “Pay and Stay”), the tenant will have the opportunity to pay any money that is owed in full at any time prior to the eviction date to avoid an eviction and remain in the rental property.
- If the landlord is paid in full, including judgment costs, within 10 days of the judgment, no order for possession can be requested.
- If within 10 days, the tenant does not either pay or file an appeal and pay a bond if required, the landlord may request an Order for Possession. Court costs will go up if the landlord requests an Order for Possession and these costs can be added to what the tenant owes.
- A forced removal date can be executed as early as 12:01am on the 11th day after the Order for Possession is posted on the door of the leased premises by a constable. Up to and including that date, a tenant can still pay the judgment in full to avoid the eviction.
- If the tenant pays the full amount owed on the date of the eviction, they will have to pay the constable directly and they will have to pay in cash. If the tenant attempts to pay by check, the constable will not accept a check and the eviction will proceed as scheduled.
Order for Possession
If the judgment is Possession Granted, the tenant will have to move out of the home even if they pay all of the money owed in full. If a tenant disagrees with the decision and wants to stay in the home, they will need to file an Appeal to the Court of Common Pleas within 10 days of the judgment date and post a bond.
After the 10-day appeal period has passed, the landlord can file for an Order for Possession. When the landlord has obtained an Order for Possession, the tenant will be served a notice by a constable either in person or by posting the notice on the door.
- The constable’s notice will say that the tenant has ten (10) additional days to vacate the dwelling from the date of service.
- This notice is a final deadline to vacate.
- If the tenant does not move by the end of the ten (10) day period at the time and date in the notice, the constable may forcibly remove the tenant and padlock the door to the rental unit
The tenant should make plans to move out as soon as possible before the scheduled eviction date. They should move all of their belongings out of the rental unit before the scheduled eviction because they will only have minutes to vacate when the constable arrives. Tenants are required to remove their belongings upon relinquishing possession of a rental property (including at the time of an eviction). If tenants have not removed their belongings when the constable evicts them, the landlord must still comply with the Abandoned Personal Property Act.
Keep in Mind: It takes at least twenty (20) days after the hearing before the legal lockout can occur.
What happens if I come to an agreement with the tenant?
If you come to an agreement with the tenant, and do not execute on the Order for Possession, the constable will not be notified to evict. Generally, this happens when the landlord and tenant work out a payment agreement and you agree that the tenant can stay. If you are able to work out an agreement, make sure to get the agreement in writing.
A landlord can request a re-issuance of an Order for Possession generally within 120 days of the judgment date.
What happens if I lose my case or if I am not satisfied with the judgment?
There are often two parts to a Judge’s decision: Possession (eviction) and Money Judgment.
Both tenants and landlords have the right to appeal a judgment. Appeals are filed with the Prothonotary at the Court of Common Pleas. To appeal a decision by a Magisterial District Court, you will need to bring a copy of the Judgment with you to the Prothonotary’s Office. It is advised that you seek the counsel of an attorney if you chose to file an Appeal, as the process at this court level is more complicated. The party appealing is called the appellant, or sometimes the petitioner. The other party is the appellee or the respondent.
If the tenant is appealing a Judgment for Possession and they want to stay in the rental property, they have ten (10) days from the judgment date to appeal the decision.
The tenant must also file a Supersedeas to stop the sheriff or constable from removing them from the property. If the tenant does not tell the Prothonotary’s Office that they want to stop the lock out and does not file a Supersedeas, then they will only be appealing the money judgment and the lock out will still occur as scheduled.
The tenant will have to pay filing fees and the Supersedeas requires the tenant to pay a bond in the amount of the money judgment or 3 months’ rent, whichever is less. (If the tenant has a very low income, they may only have to pay a third of the rent as a bond when they file the appeal.) This money will be placed in an escrow account. Tenants will also be required to pay the monthly rent to the Court every 30 days from the date of the appeal. If the tenant fails to do this, the Supersedeas may be terminated and the eviction may proceed. Make certain that you keep track of this deadline as some months have more or fewer than 30 days.
If either party does not want to appeal a Judgment for Possession, but only wants to appeal the Money Judgment, they have thirty (30) days from the date of the judgment to appeal.
Appeals are filed with the Prothonotary at the Court of Common Pleas. You will need to bring a copy of the Judgment with you to the Prothonotary’s Office. No bond is required to appeal a money judgment.
What Happens if There is No Appeal?
If the Magisterial District Court grants a Judgment for Possession, then the landlord must wait ten (10) days to request a document called an Order for Possession from the Magisterial District Court. A constable or sheriff’s deputy will serve the Order for Possession on the tenant that gives the tenant an additional 10 days to vacate the premises. If the tenant does not move within 10 days after they receive the Order for Possession, the constable or sheriff’s deputy will physically remove them from the property.
If the Magisterial District Court grants a Money Judgment in your favor, then the tenant will have 30 days to pay the judgment. If they do not pay it, you can go to the Magisterial District Court and request the issuance of a document called an Order for Execution. A constable or sheriff’s deputy will serve the Order for Execution on the tenant by giving a notice or posting it on the door of the property. At the time the Order for Execution is given, the constable or sheriff’s deputy will make a list of the property that may be sold to pay off the judgment. This list is called a levy. This property can be sold several weeks after the levy is made at a constable or sheriff’s sale, unless it is valued at less than $300 ($600 if the individuals are married and both spouses were sued). A tenant can file an Appeal or objection to the sale of property.
Garnishment of Wages
Eviction Notice Timetables
Landlord/Tenant Eviction/Nonrenewal Process Timetable for Apartment or House:
|If the Reason for Eviction is:
|A Landlord Must Give a Tenant:
Non-Payment of Rent
10 Days’ Notice
Acts Relating to Illegal Drugs
10 Days’ Notice
Expiration/General Breach of a Month-to-Month Lease or Indefinite Term Lease
15 Days’ Notice
Expiration/General Breach of a Year or Less Lease
15 Days’ Notice
Expiration/General Breach of a Lease Longer than One Year
30 Days’ Notice
Landlord/Tenant Eviction Process Timetable for Mobile Home Park:
|If the Reason for Eviction is:
|A Landlord Must Give a Tenant:
General Breach of Lease for Less Than One Year or Indefinite Term
General Breach of Lease for Longer Than One Year
3 Months from the date of service
Failure to Pay Rent Between: April-August
15 Days’ Notice
Failure to Pay Rent Between: September-March
15 Days’ Notice
Landlord/Tenant Eviction Process Timetable for Legal Proceedings and Appeal to Common Pleas:
|Magisterial District Judge Schedules Hearing
|7-15 Days After Landlord Files Complaint
Magisterial District Judge Will Enter Judgment at Conclusion of Hearing or Within
Order for Possession by Landlord
After the 10 Days Following the Day of the Disposition
Constable Executing the Order for Possession Can Evict the Occupants if They Remain on the Premise More Than:
10 Days after Service of the Order for Possession
Judgment Affects Delivery of Possession of Residential Property, Appeal Within:
10 Days after Disposition
Judgment is for Money, or Possession of Non-residential Property, Appeal Within:
30 Days after Disposition
Abandoned Personal Property Act
The Abandoned Personal Property Act is an amendment to the Pennsylvania Landlord Tenant Law and addresses the rights of landlord and tenants when a tenant has left property behind in a rental unit after relinquishing possession of the unit to the landlord. This Act applies both when a tenant is forcibly evicted by a constable with an Order of Possession or when they voluntarily vacate a rental unit and provide notice that they have vacated and provide a forwarding address.
Tenants who have been evicted or have moved out, have ten (10) days to contact the landlord and let the landlord know that they intend to retrieve their personal property which was left behind. If a tenant notifies the landlord within ten days that they wish to retrieve their property that was left behind, then the landlord is obligated to retain custody of the tenant’s possessions for thirty days. If the tenant does not retrieve their personal property within thirty (30) days, the landlord can dispose of the property.
If a tenant has moved out and has left personal property behind, the landlord must send written notice informing the tenant of the personal property they left behind. The lease should indicate how this notice is to be provided to the tenant. The notice may be sent by mail to the forwarding address provided by the tenant or by delivery in person. If the tenant does not leave a forwarding address, a notice can be sent to the old address and to any emergency contacts previously provided by the tenant.
If a tenant has been evicted, the landlord does not have to send notice to the tenant about any personal property left in the unit. It is the responsibility of the tenant to contact the landlord within ten (10) days to let the landlord know that they left possessions behind and wish to retrieve them.
After ten (10) days from the day the tenant was evicted or from the postmarked date of the landlord’s notice to the tenant to retrieve property, the landlord can begin charging a fee for storing the tenant’s possessions. The tenant must be allowed thirty (30) days to collect their possessions. Any possessions they have not collected after thirty (30) days can be disposed of by the landlord.