Tenant Eviction Procedures for Residential Leases
By R. Kurtz (Kurt) Holloway with Sarah Stone
In Pennsylvania, in order for a landlord to evict a tenant, the landlord must provide the tenant with written notice of the eviction (notice to quit) upon the happening of an event such as: the end of the tenant’s term, or breach of the conditions of the lease, including failure to pay rent. The landlord must include all necessary information in the notice in order for it to be valid. The landlord must serve the notice to tenant directly, or post the notice on the leased property (i.e. post on the apartment door), or conspicuously post the notice at the principal leased building (i.e. the apartment building common area). If the notice is not given directly to the tenant, it must be placed where the tenant will definitely see it.
In situations where the lease is for one year or less or is for an undetermined length, and eviction is due to expiration of the tenant’s term or a breach of the conditions of the lease, the notice must give the tenant 15 days to leave the property. If the lease is for more than one year, then the tenant must be given 30 days to leave. In situations where eviction is due to failure to pay rent, the tenant must be given 10 days’ notice. It is important to note that these notice requirements may be lessened or waived by terms of the lease.
If the tenant fails to comply with the landlord’s notice, the landlord must file a complaint with the court in the magisterial district where the property is located. A complaint is the legal document that states the reasons why the filing party (plaintiff) is bringing an action against another party (defendant), and why the filing party is entitled to a remedy. The district judge will set the hearing date 7-15 days from the date the complaint is filed. The judge will serve the complaint on the defendant by mailing a copy of it to the defendant’s address, and by delivering a copy of it to an officer, (usually a licensed constable) who will serve it by either hand delivery or by posting it conspicuously on the leased premises.
Any time before the hearing the defendant may file a cross-complaint against the plaintiff (landlord) for a claim arising out of occupying the leased premises. If a cross-complaint is filed, the judge will set a date to hear both complaints together. The date will be 7-15 days from the date of the defendant’s complaint. The cross-complaint will be served on the plaintiff at least 5 days before the hearing.
If the complaint is proven by evidence at the hearing, the judge will enter judgment against the defendant stating that the premises must be delivered to the plaintiff. The judge may also enter judgment for rent due, cost of damages, and court costs. The written notice of judgment will also include the right of the parties to appeal.
After the judge has entered the judgment for the plaintiff, the plaintiff may file a request for an order for possession. This filing must be made 11-120 days after judgment entry date. The judge will then issue the order for possession which will direct the executing officer to deliver actual possession of the premises to the plaintiff. The officer will serve a copy of the order on the defendant, which will include a notice stating that the defendant will have to vacate the property within 10 days from the date of the notice. If after the 10th day of the service of the order for possession, the defendant remains on the premises, the executing officer can use whatever force necessary to enter the property and to remove the defendant from it. In cases where possession of the premises is sought solely because of failure to pay rent, the defendant may satisfy the order for possession by paying both the rent due and the cost of the proceedings to the executing officer any time before actual delivery of the premises is made to the plaintiff.
It is important to remember that in Pennsylvania a landlord is not allowed to take eviction matters into his or her own hands. Landlords must follow the lease and the procedure laid out by Pennsylvania law. If you are not already familiar with this process, you should contact an attorney who practices real estate law because mistakes will be costly in time and money.