Residential landlords in Pennsylvania must adhere to the Pennsylvania eviction process if they wish to expel a tenant from a rental property. Evictions may be based upon any number of reasons:
• Unpaid rent
• Habitual late rental payments
• Violation of the rental agreement
• Expiration of the rental term
• The tenant is creating a chronic nuisance or has engaged in criminal activity
• The rental property has been substantially damaged by the tenant or by someone under the tenant’s control
It is often time-consuming and costly to evict someone. A tenant’s credit and ability to find subsequent housing can be significantly affected. Many Pennsylvania communities have mediation resources where the parties can meet to work out their differences or to arrange payment schedules so that an eviction need not take place. Also, community assistance to help delinquent renters may be available to low-income tenants in some situations.
Self-Eviction in Pennsylvania is Unlawful
A landlord who fails to follow the Pennsylvania eviction process may either have the eviction action dismissed or be liable to a tenant for damages. The eviction process allows for at least minimal due process rights for any tenant facing eviction.
Self-help actions that do not comport with due process include shutting off essential services, denying tenants access to the rental property, seizing a tenant’s personal belongings and threatening the tenant. Only a valid court order issued after a hearing or default granting the landlord possession of the property can legally expel a tenant.
Pennsylvania 10-Day Notice to Vacate
In cases of nonpayment of rent, the Pennsylvania eviction notice must be for at least 10-days. This notice is for all tenancies regardless of its nature. A written lease agreement, though, may provide for a shorter period or a “waiver,” meaning that if the rent is not paid by a certain day of the month, the tenant is automatically placed on notice of an eviction action.
The tenant must pay all rent due within the notice time, vacate the unit, or be subject to an eviction lawsuit. Also, the notice must unequivocally state that the tenant must leave by a certain date if payment is not made.
Even if the lawsuit action has been filed, however, the tenant may reinstate the lease by obtaining a “Pay and Stay” Order but only after paying all the rent and court costs owed and payment is tendered before the tenant is evicted
15-Day Notice to Vacate
Most residential leases are for less than one year. If the reason for the eviction is for any other reason than nonpayment of rent, and your lease agreement is one year or less, a landlord needs to serve a Pennsylvania eviction notice of 15-days. Your written lease agreement, however, may validly provide for a shorter or longer notice period. You may be able to comply with any lease violation within the notice period and avoid eviction.
For eviction reasons other than nonpayment of rent for a lease that is more than one year, the notice must be 30-days unless the written lease indicates otherwise.
Service of Notice
The notice to vacate may be personally served on the tenant or placed in a conspicuous location or posting on the unit door. Simply mailing the notice does not satisfy the notice requirement.
Summons and Complaint
If the tenant fails to comply with the notice, the landlord must file and serve a complaint in the Magisterial District Justice court or Court of Common Pleas. The complaint will indicate that the eviction hearing will be held within one or two weeks. The tenant should contact the court and notify the clerk that he or she will be appearing.
Tenant’s Defenses to an Eviction
A tenant in the Pennsylvania eviction process may assert any of the following defenses:
• The breach of a lease provision is not substantial enough to warrant an eviction.
• The lease provision allegedly violated is unreasonable.
• The allegations are false.
• There was improper service.
• The notice was improper.
• The landlord waived eviction by accepting any part of the rent.
• The landlord failed to remedy a condition hazardous to the tenant’s safety or health or which is in violation of the housing code after having been an opportunity to repair it.
• The eviction is in retaliation for the tenant having filed a complaint regarding the condition of the property to the landlord or to a government agency or for joining a tenant’s rights organization.
• The eviction violates the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits evicting a tenant based upon the individual’s religion, race, sex, national origin, creed, age, family status, source of income or disability.
Pennsylvania Eviction Hearing
In some courts, there may be an opportunity to mediate the landlord-tenant dispute, though neither party is required to mediate the case. If they do mediate and an agreement is reached, it must be approved by the court. All court agreements are binding on both parties and are not appealable.
Otherwise, a court trial is held. The landlord has the burden of proving that the tenant has violated the lease and that proper notice was given. Documentary evidence and witness testimony may be given by either party.
Order of Possession
If the tenant loses, the court will issue a Judgment for Possession. The tenant has 10-days to appeal the decision regarding the possession judgment and 30-days for any money judgment. After 10 days if the tenant remains on the property, the landlord can request a Writ of Possession to be given to the tenant and advising that he or she has no more than 11-days to vacate or be forcibly removed by the sheriff.
The Landlord Guidance
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