Pennsylvania Eviction Laws: Guide For Landlords

Discover what landlords need to know about legal evictions in Pennsylvania - from valid grounds for removal to the step-by-step court process. If you are dealing with non-payment, lease violations, or illegal activities by tenants, you'll find the key details on proper procedures and best practices for protecting your investment.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
May 13, 2024
Pennsylvania Eviction Laws: Guide For Landlords

One of the most challenging situations you may face as a landlord is evicting a tenant. Evictions can be time-consuming, costly, and frustrating for everyone involved. Unfortunately, there might be times when you must evict a tenant to protect your property rights and maintain a safe living environment for your other tenants.

In Pennsylvania, landlords have the legal right to pursue eviction under certain circumstances, such as non-payment of rent, lease violations, or illegal activities on the premises. The eviction process requires a solid understanding of landlord-tenant laws and following proper procedures to avoid potential legal pitfalls.

You might be dealing with a tenant who has fallen behind on rent payments, caused property damage, or engaged in activities that jeopardize the well-being of others. In all cases, understanding your options can help you follow the appropriate steps outlined by state laws.

This article explains the valid grounds for eviction in Pennsylvania, the steps involved in the legal eviction process, and the associated costs and timelines. Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a landlord can help you deal with eviction situations and protect your investment.

Grounds for an eviction in Pennsylvania

There are several valid reasons for a landlord to initiate an eviction in Pennsylvania. These include:

Not paying rent on time

Non-payment of rent is one of the most common reasons landlords pursue eviction in Pennsylvania. If a tenant doesn't pay rent by the due date or within the grace period specified in the lease agreement, the landlord has the legal right to initiate eviction proceedings. 

Staying after the lease ends

When a tenant's lease term expires, they no longer have the right to continue living in the rental unit. Unless the landlord and tenant have agreed to extend or renew the lease, the tenant should vacate the premises by the end of the lease term. If they refuse to move out, the landlord can initiate eviction proceedings to remove the tenant, who is now considered a holdover tenant.

Violating the terms of the lease

Lease agreements are legal contracts that outline the rights and responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant. If a tenant violates any of the terms or conditions specified in the lease, such as causing excessive noise, damaging the property, or keeping unauthorized pets, the landlord may have grounds for eviction.

Committing illegal activity

Committing illegal activities on the rental property can be grounds for immediate eviction in Pennsylvania. This could include drug-related offenses, disorderly conduct, or any other criminal activity that puts the safety and well-being of other tenants or neighbors at risk.

Illegal evictions in Pennsylvania

Landlords have the right to evict tenants under certain circumstances, but there are specific actions that are considered illegal in Pennsylvania:

Self-help evictions

It may be tempting to take matters into your own hands and forcibly remove tenants who are not paying rent or violating the lease terms. However, this type of "self-help" eviction isn't allowed by law in Pennsylvania. 

Discrimination

Fair housing laws in Pennsylvania and at the federal level prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on certain protected characteristics. This means that a landlord cannot evict a tenant or refuse to renew their lease solely because of their race, religion, color, disability, national origin, sex, or familial status. Landlords should treat all tenants equally and base their decisions on objective criteria rather than personal characteristics or biases.

Retaliatory evictions

Landlords cannot evict tenants as retaliation for exercising their legal rights. This could include evicting a tenant for reporting code violations, joining a tenant union, or participating in legal proceedings related to the rental property. Tenants have rights and protections under the law, and landlords cannot punish them for asserting those rights. 

Step-by-step eviction process

If you have valid grounds for eviction, you'll need to follow a specific legal process. Here are the steps involved in the Pennsylvania eviction process:

1. Provide notice to the tenant

The first step is for the landlord to serve the tenant with a written notice, informing them of the reason for leaving and the deadline. The type of notice and the notice period can vary based on the situation:

  • Non-payment of rent: If the tenant doesn't pay rent on time, you must provide a 10-day notice.
  • Lease expiration: If the tenant's lease is ending and they haven't renewed or extended it, you must issue a 15-day notice.
  • Month-to-month tenancy: For month-to-month rentals with no fixed lease term, you should give a 30-day notice.
  • Lease violations: If a tenant violates one or more lease terms, you should issue a 15-day notice. You may opt to give a 30-day notice instead, offering the tenant an additional 15 days to fix the issue or vacate.
  • Illegal activity: For illegal activities or drug-related offenses on the property, you can serve a 10-day notice.

2. File a court lawsuit

If the tenant doesn't follow the notice by either paying outstanding rent, fixing the lease violation, or moving out within the allotted amount of time, you're now within your right to file an eviction case with the local district court.

You'll need to provide the court with the necessary documents, including a copy of the lease, proof of the tenant's violation or non-payment of rent, and evidence of giving the proper notice. Be sure to follow the court's procedures and requirements for filing the complaint to avoid delay or dismissal of the eviction process.

3. Attend the court hearing and judgment

On the scheduled date, both the landlord and the tenant or their legal representatives will appear in court for the eviction hearing. This is an opportunity for each side to present their case and provide evidence to support their positions.

The landlord must show that they have valid grounds for eviction. The tenant can argue against the eviction by challenging the landlord's claims, presenting their own evidence, or raising any defenses that may apply in their situation. 

4. Obtain a writ of possession

If the eviction hearing concludes in the landlord's favor, the landlord must request a Writ of Possession from the court. This document authorizes the local sheriff's office or a court officer to physically evict the tenant and remove their belongings from the property.

Once issued, the sheriff's office or court officer will notify the tenant of the final eviction date and time, providing a last opportunity for the tenant to vacate voluntarily before the enforced removal.

5. Take possession of property 

On the scheduled eviction day, sheriff's deputies or court officers will arrive at the property to remove the tenant and their belongings.

If the tenant has not vacated, the officers will enforce their removal along with the removal of any personal belongings left inside. The landlord is responsible for handling and storing these belongings to avoid liability for any damage or loss. In some cases, the landlord might need to store the tenant's belongings for a period, allowing the tenant an opportunity to retrieve them later.

The Pennsylvania eviction process timeline

The eviction process in Pennsylvania can take several weeks or even months, depending on the specific circumstances and the court's availability. Generally, the timeline looks like this:

  • Notice period: 10-30 days, depending on the reason.
  • Filing the eviction lawsuit: 1-2 weeks.
  • Court hearing and judgment: 2-4 weeks.
  • Writ of possession and eviction: 1-2 weeks.

Pennsylvania eviction court fees

If you need to evict a tenant, you should expect to pay court fees. Factors such as the money you claim or the rental amount owed determine the exact amount of these costs. Fees also depend on the county the property is located in.

The typical fees for most eviction cases filed in Magisterial District Court with claims of $12,000 or less are:

  • Filing fee: Ranges from $84 to $140, depending on the claim amount.
  • Summons delivery fee: Approximately $75.
  • Writ of possession fee: Around $250, covering the removal of the tenant.
  • Appeal filing fee (if applicable): An additional $166.75 if the tenant appeals the eviction ruling.

Additional costs landlords may incur include:

  • Attorney fees: These charges can vary widely, typically ranging from $500 to over $10,000.
  • Locksmith fees: The average cost is around $160.
  • Storage costs: If you need to store the tenant's abandoned belongings, these costs typically range from $50 to $100 per month.
  • Turnover costs: Expenses related to preparing and re-renting the unit can be between $1,000 and $5,000.

Evicting a squatter in Pennsylvania 

A squatter is someone who moves into a vacant property without the owner's permission and doesn't pay rent. In Pennsylvania, squatters are considered trespassers, and you evict them like any other tenant.

In rare cases, a squatter may claim rights to the property if they have lived there continuously for over two decades under certain conditions.

Squatters' rights in Pennsylvania

For a squatter to claim rights to a property in Pennsylvania, their living situation must meet all of these requirements:

  • Hostile/adverse: They don't have a valid rental agreement or any legal right from the rightful owner to live on the property. Their occupancy of the property is hostile to the owner's interests.
  • Actual: They must physically live on the property, not just visit or store things there occasionally.
  • Open and notorious: Their living on the property must be visible and known to the public, including the owner.
  • Exclusive: They must be the only people living on the property, and no one else must reside there at the same time.
  • Continuous: The squatter must have lived on the property continuously and without interruption for 21 years or more.

If all of those apply, the squatter may be able to file a legal claim for ownership of the property through adverse possession.

Evicting a squatter

In most cases, you can remove a squatter from your vacant property by following these steps:

  1. Contact the police: Determine if the individual is simply trespassing or has established squatters' rights. Trespassers can typically be removed by police immediately.
  2. Legal notices: If the person is a recognized squatter, you’ll need to involve the sheriff's department. Begin by serving them with an official eviction notice.
  3. Formal eviction process: Should the squatter not vacate after the notice period concludes, proceed to file a formal eviction with the courts.
  4. Enforcement: Only the sheriff's department is legally empowered to forcibly remove a squatter if they ignore the eviction order.

Tips to reduce the likelihood of evictions

Landlords can reduce the likelihood of evictions by adopting several proactive strategies, including:

  • Detailed tenant screening: Use a detailed tenant screening process that includes credit reports, criminal history, employment verification, and previous rental history. This helps you select financially stable tenants with a good rental track record.
  • Clear lease agreements: Create clear and detailed lease agreements. Outline all terms and conditions, such as rent payment schedules, pet policies, and maintenance responsibilities.
  • Effective communication: Maintain open and consistent communication with your tenants. Make it easy for them to reach you and respond promptly to their concerns or queries. Good communication can often resolve issues before they escalate to the point of eviction.
  • Regular property inspections: Conduct regular inspections of the property to verify that it is well-maintained and to identify any potential issues early.
  • Rent payment flexibility: Consider offering flexible payment options such as online payments, which can make it easier for tenants to pay on time.
  • Legal compliance: Stay updated on local landlord-tenant laws and regulations.
  • Tenant education: At the start of each tenancy, take the time to educate tenants on their responsibilities and the rules of the property. You can do this with a welcome packet that includes important information and contact details.
  • Professional property management: If managing tenant relationships and property issues becomes overwhelming, consider hiring a professional property management company. They can handle your day-to-day operations and may be more experienced in dealing with tenant issues.

Eviction process in PA

Evicting a tenant is never an easy decision, but sometimes, it's a step you have to take to maintain your rights as a property owner. By following the legal process outlined in this guide, you can manage eviction situations properly while minimizing risks.

You can also reduce your chances of eviction by implementing thorough screening, clear communication, and proactive property management. Protect your investment, follow the rules, and don't hesitate to seek professional legal guidance when needed.

With the right approach, you can resolve tenancy issues lawfully and keep your rental business running smoothly!

Pennsylvania eviction laws FAQs

Can a landlord evict you without a court order in PA?

No, a landlord cannot evict a tenant in Pennsylvania without a court order. The landlord must go through the legal eviction process by filing for eviction with the local district court and obtaining a court order.

What are my rights as a tenant in Pennsylvania?

As a tenant in Pennsylvania, you have the right to safe and habitable housing, proper notice before eviction, and the right to a court hearing if facing eviction. Landlords cannot shut off utilities, change locks, or take other illegal actions to force you out.

Can a landlord evict you if there is no lease in Pennsylvania?

Yes, even without a written lease, a landlord can evict a tenant in Pennsylvania as long as they follow the proper legal eviction process. This includes providing the required notice period and obtaining a court order for eviction from the local district court.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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