Dealing with a landlord-tenant relationship that has gone south can be a nightmare. Maybe you've hit hard financial times and you can't pay the rent, Or perhaps you really thought you were allowed to have a pet, and now that you've found out it's prohibited in your lease you can't bear to part with it. If your landlord wants you out, you may have to move, but eviction won't happen overnight -- at least not in Pennsylvania. The state's Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 sets the rules your landlord must follow.
The Notice to Quit
Your landlord must first give you a written Notice to Quit, letting you know he wants you to vacate the premises. The notice can't demand that you leave the next day. If his grievance is that you haven't paid rent, you have 10 days to leave. If it's something else -- like that puppy you're not supposed to have -- you have 15 days to move if you have a yearly lease, and 30 days if your lease is for longer than a year. Your landlord also must give you 15 days' notice if your lease is about to expire and he doesn't intend to renew it. He must give you the notice in person or arrange for someone else to do so -- he can't mail it -- but if you're not home, he can post it on your door.
If your eviction is based on non-payment of rent and you can come up with the money and give it to your landlord within the 10 days, he can’t evict you. For other lease violations, you can try negotiating with your landlord to fix the problem, but he has a right to proceed with the eviction if you don’t voluntarily leave within the allotted time.
The terms of Pennsylvania’s Landlord and Tenant Act can be overridden by the terms of your lease. If your lease says your landlord can evict you in 24 hours and you both signed it, he can do that -- the Act doesn’t protect you.
The Landlord/Tenant Complaint
If you haven't moved out by the deadline, your landlord can take you to court. He can file a landlord/tenant complaint with the Magisterial District Court, asking for an order to make you leave the premises. He also can ask the judge for an order obligating you to pay any past due rent, or for damages to the property that your security deposit doesn't cover.
The court will schedule a hearing when it receives your landlord's complaint, usually within 15 days. You'll receive a notice telling you the date and time. You have a right to appear in court to defend yourself against your landlord's charges. The judge may tell you his decision at the hearing. If not, the court will mail you a judgment within three days, explaining the judge's decision.
The Order for Possession
If the Magisterial Judge sides with your landlord and orders you to leave the property, you have at least 10 days to move out under Pennsylvania law. Your landlord must wait that long to go back to court and ask for an Order for Possession. You then have another 10 days to vacate the premises. After this point, your landlord can give the order to a sheriff's deputy or constable, who will come to the property and forcibly remove you.
- If your landlord tries to evict you without following the rules laid out in Pennsylvania's Landlord and Tenant Act, call the state's Office of Consumer Protection for help. You also can ask the judge to dismiss your landlord's case when you go to court if you can show evidence that he broke the law, such as if you think he's evicting you for discriminatory reasons or he locked you out of the premises in an effort to get you to leave.
- Pennsylvania law allows tenants to withhold rent if the dwelling is uninhabitable and the landlord refuses to make repairs. You can raise this as a defense at the hearing. You'll need proof of the uninhabitable conditions, such as photographs. You'll also have to establish that you asked your landlord to correct the situation and he refused.