Landlords don’t need an attorney to evict in Philadelphia, but it’s important that they follow the laws of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951 outlines both landlord and tenant responsibilities. Pennsylvania laws require the landlord to issue a formal notice asking the tenant to leave the unit. If the tenant refuses or believes that the request is not legal, the parties will have to go to court.
Writing a Notice to Vacate
Before landlords can file legal paperwork with the courts, they must issue a Notice to Vacate that requests that they leave the property. The notice must include the following information:
- The requested date of vacancy
- The date the notice was issued
- The name and address of the tenants
- The name of the owner
- The reason that the notice to vacate is being issued
- If past rent is due, the total amount of rent and other fees, how to pay the total amount, and the last day that the total amount of rent must be paid
- A statement indicating that the tenant must pay rent, or meet the terms of the lease, or move out during the specified time period
- How the notice was delivered to the tenant (by mail or posted on the rental property)
- That the landlord may proceed with legal action if the reason stated in the Notice to Vacate is not addressed or the tenant does not move
If issuing a notice to vacate due to unpaid rent or utilities, a landlord must give the tenant at least 10 days to leave the property. If the landlord wants the tenant to leave because the tenant has violated other terms of the lease, 15 days is legally required for leases that are one year or less. The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951 also specifies in Article V that 30 days notice is required for leases that are drafted to be more than one year in length. Landlords should also check their lease, since some specify that the tenant must have a period of notice that is longer than 10 or 15 days. In these cases, the landlord must follow the terms of the lease.
Filing a Complaint
If the tenant does not leave by the date on the Notice to Vacate, the landlord must file an Eviction Complaint with the court system and pay a fee. They must also mail a copy of the complaint to the tenant or post a copy at the rental property.
Once the complaint is received, the court will notify the tenant of the complaint and schedule hearing before the Magisterial District Justice. When the tenant receives the complaint notice, he must write to the court and explain the defense he intends to use to fight the eviction. The court will also schedule a hearing date. Both the tenant and landlord must appear during the hearing date or risk losing the case. At the end of the hearing, the judge will either order the tenant to leave the property and pay back rent or deny the landlord’s claims.
Appealing the Court’s Decision
Tenants who lose the initial court case may appeal within 10 days to a higher court. However, if they intend to stay at the rental property, they must pay the lesser amount of the judgment issued against them or three months rent. If they lose this appeal, the tenant must leave.
Finishing the Eviction Process
With a favorable court decision in hand, the landlord can file a Writ of Possession if the tenant has not left the property after 10 days. The sheriff’s office will enforce the eviction 11 days after the writ has been given to the tenant.
Avoiding Illegal Eviction Rulings
Even if the tenant is not paying rent, a landlord cannot change the locks to a rental property, shut off utilities, or attempt to force the tenant out of the property through non-legal means. Landlords who use these tactics may have their eviction cases dismissed and may even owe damages to the tenant they seek to evict.
For a successful eviction, it’s essential that landlords follow the Pennsylvania landlord tenant act and issue a valid Notice to Vacate before using legal recourse. If the Notice to Vacate doesn’t work, the landlord should file an Eviction Complaint. After the complaint has been filed, the court system will commit to issuing a fair ruling and involving the sheriff’s office when warranted.