What is an Ejectment?
In Philadelphia, there are two methods to remove an unwanted individual from your property: eviction and ejectment. Evictions are applicable where there is a landlord-tenant relationship between owner and occupant. For example, if the occupant has paid rent or signed a lease with you then you must file an eviction. Ejectments are applicable where the occupant has no legal or equitable right to the property. Therefore ejectments are proper for squatters or individuals who have never signed a lease with the current owner. This applies to most situations where the individual is not a tenant.
How Long Does it Take?
In Philadelphia, an ejectment takes approximately four (4) to seven (7) months to finalize. Please note that the time frame may vary dramatically based on the particular circumstances of your case. For example most four month ejectments occur where the squatter fails to answer the ejectment complaint. The attorney may take a default judgment and file a motion with the court for possession. After this motion is filed the sheriff is contacted to setup a lockout. From that point the squatter receives twenty-one day notice before the sheriff arrives. Therefore the absolutely minimum amount of time to process an ejectment is about four months, and it could take much longer.
What is Basic Process to File?
An ejectment starts with the filing of a civil action complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The complaint must then be served on the squatter pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 400-405. The service rules require defendant to be served in-person at his home or place of business. Once service is effectuated the defendant (squatter) has twenty days to answer the complaint. If the defendant answers the complaint the case will be listed for a mediation conference in approximately two to three months. If the defendant fails to answer the complaint the Plaintiff may send a notice of praecipe to enter default judgment. This notice must be sent to the squatter with proof of mail (e.g., certified mail, certificate of service). Ten days after the notice of default judgment is mailed the plaintiff may file for default judgment. Once default judgment is entered the plaintiff may file a motion for writ of possession with the court. If the motion is granted the Plaintiff may schedule a lockout. If the defendant answered the complaint the case may proceed to trial. At the ejectment trial the burden is on the plaintiff to show a superior right to possession. This usually involves presented the court with a certified deed to establish ownership.
What are Mistakes to Avoid?
You should never file an eviction as an ejectment. If the person occupying your property is on a lease then the correct legal procedure for removal is an eviction. If you file an ejectment and the defendant raises the issue of a leasehold the city of Philadelphia may place the case on a standard case management track. This will unduly lengthen the case and may force the ejectment into several years of litigation. Therefore if the defendant is on a lease it is best to file an eviction not an ejectment. Another common mistake made by pro se litigants is they fail to properly serve the defendant. the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure require in-person service, meaning the defendant must be handed the complaint. If the defendant is not served the ejectment claim cannot succeed.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Ejectments are filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. Common Pleas court is higher and more formal than Philadelphia municipal courts, landlord tenant courts, small claims courts, and/or traffic courts. If you proceed yourself understand you will be effectively trying a significant case before a judge in a formal courtroom setting. If you feel comfortable public speaking and understand the ejectment process you may be able to handle it yourself. On the other hand if your priority is to process the ejectment as quickly as possible you may want counsel. Counsel may have the benefit of experience in expeditiously resolving such matters. Further a Philadelphia landlord tenant lawyer likely has process servers and other individuals available to handle the logistical requirements of successfully and effectively processing an ejectment. Watch my somewhat biased video below on why you should retain counsel.
What Else Should I Know?
Many ejectments in Philadelphia concern properties purchased at sheriff sale. The individual in the property is a prior owner. They have lost their home through mortgage/tax lien foreclosure. In such circumstances the squatter may be hostile and aggressive if you confront them personally. Therefore while the ejectment may be inconvenient it is probably the best method for removal. Some property investors may offer cash for keys to squatters in consideration for foregoing the ejectment procedure. This may be a reasonable way to remove an unwanted individual saving you the time and aggravation of a legal filing. If you pursue this route be sure to have the terms of your agreement in writing and signed. Finally, if the property was purchased at tax lien sheriff sale the current occupant may have a right of redemption. The redemption is a law that gives the prior owner the right to repurchase their property for the purchase price at auction plus ten percent interest plus necessary expenses. Therefore consider speaking with a Philadelphia landlord tenant lawyer before your initiate legal proceedings against a squatter. If you are looking to defend or stop a redemption action, speak with a Philadelphia landlord tenant lawyer about defensive tactics. To schedule a free consultation call 267.535.9776.