In a perfect world, tenants and landlords keep an open and honest line of communication while the former pays their rent on time and lives quietly and comfortably on the latter’s well-maintained property. Unfortunately, this scenario is not always the case.
When a strong landlord-tenant relationship goes sour, the eviction process might be necessary. But for Pennsylvania landlords, there are rules and regulations to follow. This article will highlight the steps required to evict tenants legally and efficiently.
Reasons to Evict a Tenant in Pennsylvania
There are a few reasons why a landlord may determine that a tenant should be evicted from the property. These include:
1. Failure to pay rent
This is the most common reason for eviction in Pennsylvania. It is also the easiest to resolve, provided both parties are willing or able to agree to provisions that are reflective of the lease.
2. Direct violation of lease terms
Although a written lease agreement can vary between tenants living in the same building, both landlord and tenant must be willing to uphold the agreed-upon terms and conditions at all times in order to avoid violations. Violations can include noise complaints, excessive messiness, unauthorized pets, or odors.
3. Performing illegal activity on the premise
An unfortunate, yet common reason for eviction involves tenants performing illegal activity, including drug possession/distribution on-site, hosting illegal activity (gambling, prostitution, drug manufacturing), and in some cases, subletting the unit to other parties.
4. Non-renewal of the lease after the end of the rental period
If a tenant’s rental period passes without renewal in the form of updated payment or new post-dated checks, the tenant can be considered in violation of the non-renewal of their lease.
Reasons Landlords Cannot Evict Tenants in Pennsylvania
In the state of Pennsylvania, landlords cannot force a tenant to move out of their rental unit––unless the landlord has won an eviction lawsuit, in which case the local sheriff (or another authorized member of the law) is responsible for removing the tenant.
Landlords who wish to perform self-help evictions––changing the locks, removing the tenant's personal items from the unit, turning off heat and electricity, and even removing the front door from the unit, all without the tenant's knowledge––are also illegal and heavily discouraged as these methods, according to Pennsylvania Civil Code, can result in a landlord being sued for damages and forced to pay tenant's court costs and attorney's fees.
Types of Notices in Pennsylvania
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a landlord can evict a tenant for violating the terms of their lease, or for any of the terms listed above. But before they can begin to file an eviction, a landlord must provide the tenant with a Notice to Quit. Depending on how long they have resided at the address––tenants who have resided in the rental property for one year or less will be given a 15-Day Notice to Quit; tenants who have resided in the property for more than one year will receive a 30-Day Notice to Quit––such notice gives the tenant an appropriate window of time to resolve any issues. Failure to resolve within these timeframes means that the landlord can proceed to file for an eviction action.
Steps of Eviction Process in Pennsylvania
After the Notice to Quit has been served and the period has passed without resolution, the landlord can file an official Landlord-Tenant Complaint. On average, it takes about 1 to 2 months total for a complete eviction process in Pennsylvania.
1. Filing a Complaint
- Proceed to the correct Magisterial District Court or Court of Common Pleas that the rental property and reason for eviction belong to.
- Fill out the Landlord-Tenant Complaint Form
- Pay the necessary filing fee(s)
2. Notice to Comply
After the Landlord-Tenant Complaint has been filed, the landlord will need to issue the tenant a Notice to Comply, which can be easily found online. During this time, a summons from the court will be issued to the tenant on behalf of the court.
3. Serving the Tenant
The Summons and Complaint are served to the tenant by a sheriff, constable, or appointed writ server. It may be delivered in person, via mail, or posted in a secure and visible position by the entrance of the tenant's rented property. The Summons and Complaint must be served to the tenant before the eviction proceedings begin.
In Court: Asking for Possession
Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgment
An eviction hearing is scheduled anywhere from 7 to 10 days after the summons has been issued. Once in court, the landlord must provide a strong argument, bolstered by solid evidence against the tenant, in order to win an eviction process. If the tenant does not show up to court for their eviction hearing, the Magisterial District Judge is likely to rule in favor of the landlord by default.
In Court: Receiving Possession
1. Winning the case
If a landlord is successful and wins the case, they can request a Writ of Possession––also known as an Order for Possession––from the judge. This order is designed to inform the tenant that they must move out of the property in question. In most cases, the Order of Possession is given up to 5 days after the landlord wins their case.
At this point, if the tenant is somehow able to pay all court costs and fees before the Order for Possession is issued, then the eviction process is stopped, regardless of the outcome.
2. Moving out
The last step of the eviction process is to move the tenant out of the premises. According to Pennsylvania law, once the Order of Possession is issued, law enforcement officials (only) have to serve it to the tenant within 48 hours from the time they receive it. Once the tenants receive the order, they have 10 days to move out before they are forcefully evicted from the property.
A tenant can appeal by filing 10 to 30 days after the court rules in favor of the landlord, depending on the type of eviction.
Evidence to show for not paying rent
If a tenant is being evicted for failure to pay rent and chooses to dispute this claim in court, landlords must show the judge the following:
- The lease agreement – demonstrating the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- History of tenant’s payments – proving all previous payments, including the method of payment, (check, debit, credit card, etc.) and the dates upon which such payments were due in order to demonstrate that the tenant and landlord have had an established, ongoing schedule of remuneration.
- Any payment returns – if the tenant ever had a declined payment in the form of a bounced check or insufficient funds in their account on rent day, or they reported a chargeback dispute on their credit card. Showing this information to the judge demonstrates a history of inflexibility and delinquency that can work in a landlord’s favor. The judge may also rule in a landlord’s favor if they can prove that they are owed compensation from service fees and penalties from their bank as a result of the tenant’s default payments.
- Any and all communication – if the tenant has a history of payment issues and they have reached out to the landlord via email or text message to try and establish some sort of alternative or payment excuse…landlords should definitely share such communication with the judge. Landlords should always encourage having communication in writing with these tenants as opposed to face-to-face conversations.
Evidence to show for lease violations
If a tenant is being evicted for a lease violation, landlords must show proof to the court. This can include:
- Security Cameras – if you have surveillance footage of tenants committing crimes or lease violations.
- Video and photos – if you have cellphone video or other media featuring tenants violating their lease in real-time.
- Lease Terms – demonstrating to the court, in writing, that the tenant is in breach of their agreed-upon lease agreement, it’s imperative that the document be shared in court––even if all of the fine print isn’t in writing. The judge will make their own determination.
REMEMBER: The eviction process is all about demonstrating the delinquent behavioral patterns of a tenant so that the landlord can have them removed and their units re-leased.
As shown, the laws regarding tenant evictions in Pennsylvania feature slight differences depending on the circumstances (and by county, in some cases), but the overall eviction process stays the same:
- Upon payment delinquency or other lease violation, the landlord sends the tenant a written notice (Notice to Quit; 15-day or 30-day notice, depending on the length of tenancy)
- Failing to resolve, the landlord can serve the tenant an eviction notice, which will then go to trial
- Both parties attend the trial and present their respective cases
- Upon receiving a judgment, the tenant is either granted permission to stay or is evicted, wherein a sheriff or constable will remove them from the landlord's premises