The eviction laws in Pennsylvania differ slightly from county to county, but the eviction process stays fairly the same:
- Send a clear written notice
- Fill out the forms
- Serve the documents
- Attend the trial
- Wait for judgment
A good landlord-tenant relationship makes the process easier because there may be no need to file a complaint to the court for an eviction action or an eviction lawsuit. Leases also allow landlords and tenants to have special arrangements in case there are disputes regarding a lease violation and the like.
Sometimes, a lease may even indicate no notice is required prior to proceeding with legal action.
This article details a summary for landlords to refer to when evicting a tenant. Alternatively, a landlord can ask attorneys for legal advice if they have any questions on the landlord-tenant act or on their county's eviction rules.
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Now, let’s dive in.
Notice requirements vary depending on the reason for evicting a tenant. Pennsylvania law requires the landlord to comply with notice requirements and the notice must have all necessary information such as the tenant's violation and how long they have before they must vacate the rental unit.
The notice must be presented before filing a complaint in court. If the lease stipulates no notice is necessary, then the landlord can proceed to the next step.
1. Failure to pay rent or nonpayment of rent
The most common reason for eviction is failing to pay rent on time. A landlord may evict renters for nonpayment of rent.
Rent in Pennsylvania is considered late a day past its due. Before a landlord can start filing an eviction, the landlord must give the tenant a 10-Day Notice to Quit. This eviction notice allows the tenant 10 days to settle any unpaid rent.
The tenant must resolve their nonpayment of rent after the 10 days' notice or leave the rental premises. Otherwise, the landlord may continue filing for an eviction action.
2. Violation of the written lease/rental agreement
A written lease agreement can vary between tenants. Both landlord and tenant must uphold the terms of the lease/rental agreement at all times and avoid lease violations.
In Pennsylvania, the landlord can evict a tenant for violating the terms of the written lease agreement. The landlord must provide an eviction notice called a 15-Day Notice to Quit for at-will tenants and other tenants who have resided in the rental property for one year or less.
Tenants who have resided in the rental property for more than one year receive a 30-Day Notice to Quit. Should the tenant fail to move out within their given notice period, the landlord may continue filing for legal action.
3. Conducting illegal activity
If a tenant has engaged in illegal activity on the property, the landlord must give the tenant a 10-Day Notice to Quit before filing for an eviction process. Examples of illegal activity are:
- Violating the Controlled Substances Act of 1972 for the second time
- Law enforcement officials seize drugs from the tenant's rental unit
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance
4. Non-renewal of lease after the end of the rental period
A Pennsylvania eviction process does not allow a landlord to evict a tenant without good cause. The landlord must either wait for the tenant to commit a violation or wait for their lease term to end.
Tenants who stay within the rental premises even a day after their term ends may be evicted. The notice a tenant receives depends on their tenancy or lease term, which can include a 15-Days' Notice to Quit or a 30-Days' Notice to Quit.
For your own Pennsylvania lease agreement, visit DoorLoop's Forms Page to download a template along with many other forms.
Filing a Complaint
The landlord may file a Landlord-Tenant Complaint after the notice period has passed. The landlord can fill it out either before or during their visit to the Magisterial District Court or Court of Common Pleas in order to file it.
1. Steps in filing
- Proceed to the right Magisterial District Court or Court of Common Pleas the rental property and reason for eviction belongs to.
- Fill out the Landlord-Tenant Complaint Form
- Pay the filing fees
It takes between 10 to 30 days before a landlord can file a complaint.
<table style="width:100%"><tr><th>Lease Agreement / Type of Tenancy</th><th>Notice to Receive</th></tr><tr><td>Tenancy at will</td><td>15-Days' Notice to Quit</td></tr><tr><td>Less than one year</td><td>15-Days' Notice to Quit</td></tr><tr><td>More than a year</td><td>30-Days' Notice to Quit</td></tr></table>
Notice to Comply
Before filing for an eviction with the court, you need to issue the tenant a notice to comply. You can either download the free PDF or Word template, or create your Pennsylvania eviction notice from here using a step-by-step wizard that guides you through the entire process to make sure you are submitting the legally correct notice.
Keep in mind, the step-by-step wizard will ask you to pay a small fee at the end - it's a small price to pay to ensure legal compliance and protection. The last thing you want is to go to court only to find out you did the first process incorrect.
Serving the Tenant
The Summons and Complaint must be served on the tenant by a sheriff, writ server, or constable.
1. How to serve the Summons and Complaint to a tenant
There are three methods available:
- The Summons and Complaint is delivered to the tenant in person
- The server mails the document
- A copy of the document is placed in a secure and visible position by the entrance of the tenant's rented property
2. After serving the Summons and Complaint
The tenant is not required to file an answer once they receive the eviction complaint.
The Summons and Complaint must be served on the tenant before the eviction proceedings begin.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgment and get a Judgment for Possession
The landlord must provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against the tenant in order to win. Should the tenant fail to show up to the eviction hearing, the Magisterial District Judge could rule in favor of the landlord by default. Valid evidence may include:
- A copy of the deed and the lease/rental agreement
- Rent receipts & rent ledgers
- Bank and witness statements
Attorneys may also represent the tenants or landlords during a court hearing. Tenants who were victims of domestic violence can appeal the ruling within thirty days, but under regular circumstances, tenants only have 10 days to appeal.
An eviction hearing is scheduled 7-10 days after the issuance of the Summons.
Appeals can be filed 10-30 days after the court rules in favor of the landlord, depending on the type of eviction.
1. After the landlord wins the case and gets a Writ of Possession
Once the landlord wins the case, they can request a Writ of Possession—also known as an Order for Possession from the district judge. This is a court order which informs the tenant that they must move out of the property. The Order of Possession is released 5 days after the landlord wins the case.
Should the tenant be able to pay all court costs and fees before the Order for Possession is issued, then the entire eviction process is stopped.
2. Move out process
The final step in the eviction process is to move the tenant out of the premises. Pennsylvania law dictates that once the Writ of Possession is issued, law enforcement officials have to serve it to the tenant within 48 hours from the time they receive it.
Once the tenants receive the Writ of Possession, they have 10 days to move out before they are forcefully evicted from the property.
It takes 5 days for the Writ of Possession to be issued by the court. Law enforcement officials have 48 hours to serve this court order to the tenant. After that, the tenant has 10 days to move out of the property.
Pennsylvania Eviction Process Timeline
It takes an average of 1 month to 2 months for a complete eviction process in Pennsylvania.
<table style="width:100%"><tr><th>Steps of the Eviction Process</th><th>Average Timeline</th></tr><tr><td>Issuing an Official Notice</td><td>10-30 days </td></tr><tr><td>Issuance and Service of Summons and Complaint</td><td>A few days to a few weeks, depending on the chosen service method</td></tr><tr><td>Court Hearing and Judgment</td><td>7-10 days</td></tr><tr><td>Issuance of Writ of Execution</td><td>5 days</td></tr><tr><td>Possession of the Property</td><td>10 days</td></tr></table>
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the request to begin the eviction process and they reply to the court, it’s important that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner that can be used for this is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on can show that the tenant and the landlord had established some sort of schedule.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also, show any fees your bank may have charged you, and any penalties you are owed according to your lease agreement.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that they were aware of the situation and were given time to cure and make payment. This is why it’s always best to have everything physically in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, you can be confident that the court will rule in your favor.
- Video - If you didn’t catch them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages or the lease violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too as it’s usually easier to see by email or printed.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single term spelled out in your rental agreement. If the violation is bad enough, it might not be needed to have it written. As a good practice though, start adding all of the potential reasons to evict a tenant into your agreement.
1. What is a self-help eviction?
Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity, but can be many other things. Many states specify how much money a tenant can sue for if the landlord has tried to illegally evict the tenant through some sort of self-help measure. Some state laws also provide for tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees (if the tenant successfully sues the landlord) and/or give the tenant the right to stay in the rental unit.
2. Can I force a tenant to move out in Pennsylvania?
In almost every state in the US, a landlord must never try to force a tenant to move out of the rental unit. The tenant can only be removed from a rental unit after the landlord has successfully won an eviction lawsuit. Even then, the only person authorized to remove the tenant is a sheriff or constable, or any other individual authorized by law. Pennsylvania law has made it illegal for a landlord to personally remove the tenant from the rental unit.
3. What are the potential penalties for a self-help eviction?
According to Pennsylvania Civil Code, the landlord may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
DoorLoop hosted this webinar with attorney Gregory J. Spadea, Esquire from The Law Offices of Spadea & Associates, LLC to help answer many of your legal questions. Gregory specializes in real estate law and evictions in Pennsylvania and we covered:
- Landlord-tenant issues and laws
- Grounds to evict a tenant
- Eviction process
- Preventing delays or fines
- Hiring an Attorney vs DIY
- Post COVID legal changes
Feel free to learn more and watch this webinar for free.
Can a tenant be evicted in the winter in Pennsylvania?
Yes, a tenant can be evicted in the winter in Pennsylvania as long as the reason for eviction is valid and the landlord follows the correct eviction process. A self-help eviction is considered illegal in Pennsylvania.
How do I evict a family member in PA?
You can still follow the appropriate eviction process in order to evict a family member. There is no special process you have to take in order to evict a family member who is also one of your tenants.
Are evictions on hold in PA?
As of August 31, 2020, evictions are no longer on hold in Pennsylvania according to legislation. However, each district court may treat evictions differently. Consult with your local district court for more information on how they are handling the COVID-19 situation.
What is the Landlord-Tenant Act?
The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act contains legal information that Pennsylvania landlords and tenants can refer to for information about their rights as individuals. It indicates statutes on important topics that include security deposits, rent fee increases, as well as the responsibilities of each party during a tenant's stay.
The local government may decide to update the Landlord-Tenant act, especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic so be sure to doublecheck these things with your local county.
- Eviction Process in Pennsylvania Webinar with attorney Gregory J. Spadea, Esquire
- Free Downloadable Forms
- eForms: Pennsylvania Eviction Notice Forms
- Landlord Guidance: The Pennsylvania Eviction Process
- National Apartment Association: COVID-19 Information for Pennsylvania
- NOLO: Consequences of Illegal Evictions
- NOLO: Emergency Bans on Evictions by State
- NOLO: How Evictions Work in Pennsylvania
- NOLO: Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws in Pennsylvania
- NOLO: Pennsylvania Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines