In this blog I will discuss ten steps to increase the likelihood of success in filing an eviction in Philadelphia, PA.
Step 1: Execute a Strong Lease
In Pennsylvania, landlord-tenant matters are governed by contract law. The lease is the written contract that governs the landlord-tenant relationship. Therefore, if you are a landlord it is important you carefully draft a lease that will protect you in the event of litigation. For example, you may want to consider a clause that waives the notice to vacate requirement. If you do not waive the notice to vacate tenant may have additional defenses in court. You can decide at the inception whether you want a month-to-month lease or annual term. A month-to-month lease will make it easier to evict if necessary. Finally, a strong lease will award attorneys fees to the landlord or in some instances the prevailing party in the event of litigation. All of these built-in clauses can dramatically increase your chances of success in the event of litigation. Therefore it is important you draft a strong lease with the Tenant. While some boilerplate leases are generally effective the best option may be to retain an attorney draft a lease tailored to your objectives. Many landlord-tenant lawyers will handle such matters on an hourly basis. For a few hundred dollars you may have the peace of mind in knowing that if the landlord-tenant relationship breaks down you have protection.
Step 2: Register Property With City
In order to legally rent property in Philadelphia, landlords must register their property with the City of Philadelphia. You must have; 1.) a business privilege license; and 2.) a housing inspection license. These licenses can be obtained at the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia, PA. In order to obtain the license you must certify the property is compliant with the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code. Specifically, you must verify the property has fire protection and smoke detection equipment.
Step 3: Provide Documents to Tenant
In Philadelphia, landlords are legally obligated to provide Tenants a Certificate of Rental Suitability (PM-102.6.4) and Partners for Good Housing Handbook at the inception of the leasehold. These are documents certify the Property is in a fit and habitable condition, and affirmatively provide information to the tenant concerning renter rights. The documents must be signed, dated and verified by landlord. The landlord should be able to affirmatively prove these documents were provided to the tenant (e.g., posted to the door, sent certified mail, signed by tenant etc.).
Step 4: Comply with PLDCL
The Philadelphia Lead Disclosure Law (Chapter 6-800) “PLDCL” requires landlords who are renting properties to meet certain obligations concerning lead testing. The law specifically requires landlords to certify properties are “lead safe” where the property; 1.) was built before 1978; and 2.) is being rented by tenants with children aged six and under. The lead safe certification must be provided to Tenant at inception of the leasehold. If this document is not provided to tenant then landlord may incur liability. Specifically, the tenant may sue the landlord for rent paid, damages, attorneys fees, and other costs. Therefore it is important to have the property lead tested if the property is being rented to children. A certified lead inspector should be able to inspect your property for less than two hundred dollars. The inspector may require you to engage in remedial actions to correct any lead exposure. If the property is lead safe a certificate of lead safe status with be issued. This is the document that must be provided to the tenant.
Step 5: Send Notice to Vacate
If your tenant has defaulted on the lease you must file an eviction. In Philadelphia a landlord cannot engage in “self-help” eviction or remove the tenant without court proceedings. If the landlord engages in such actions the Philadelphia Police will enforce the Philadelphia Anti-Lockout Ordinance. The ordinance authorizes the police to restore access to tenants who have been dispossessed by landlord without court proceedings. The first step in the eviction process is sending out the notice to vacate. The notice must provide time for the tenant to leave the property. For nonpayment the time frame is generally ten days. For breach the time frame is generally fifteen days. If the lease is being ended for term the time frame is generally thirty days. If the tenant is being evicted for termination fo the term only, the landlord must state “good cause” for why the leasehold is ending. Good cause includes habitual non-payment, breach of the lease, refusal to provide access and/or landlord requires an empty unit to make renovations. If there is no good cause the landlord may face resistance if tenant does not wish to vacate.
Step 6: Get Attorney to File Eviction
If you are filing the eviction in Philadelphia there are two options. You can file “pro se” or unrepresented at 1339 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 10th Floor. You will wait for an “intake specialist” to evaluate your case and file the requisite paperwork. Alternatively, you can retain an experienced attorney to efficiently and effectively process your eviction. Most attorneys will ask you to send them the pertinent documents. They will then obtain your court date and appear in-court on your behalf. Your presence may not be required, as most attorneys may resolve the entire matter without you. However, if the case cannot be resolved you presence may be required to testify at the eviction hearing.
Step 7: Get Judgment for Possession
In order to remove your tenant you must obtain a “judgment for possession.” This is a court order authorizing removal of the defendant from the property. You can obtain this judgment “by agreement” or through court proceedings. If the tenant is amenable to negotiation then you may obtain the judgment by agreement. If the tenant insists on litigation before a judge then you must obtain a court ordered judgment for possession. In either instance the judgment will enable you to setup a lockout with the sheriff.
Step 8: File and Serve Writs
After you obtain the judgment of possession you must serve a writ of possession on the tenant. The writ informs the tenant the lockout is pending. By law you must wait at least eleven days before filing the writ of possession. The writ is then served on the tenant or posted to the property. Once the writ is posted the landlord must file an alias writ of possession. The alias writ cannot be filed sooner than twenty-one days from the court hearing. Once the alias is filed it is delivered to a Landlord-Tenant Officer for execution. If you are represented by counsel they may file the writs. If you are pro se then it will be your responsibility to finalize the lockout.
Step 9: Change the Locks
After the tenant has been served with the writ of possession, a lockout will be scheduled with the sheriff or a landlord-tenant officer. You must meet with the sheriff on an appointed day and time to change the locks. The sheriff will require that you change the locks. If the tenants has pets you may be required to have animal control present. The tenant will be given approximately ten minutes to collect belongings before leaving. If tenant attempts to return to the property they may be arrested for criminal trespass.
Step 10: Avoid Liability
By law the tenant has ten (10) days to notify you to retrieve their belongings following a lockout. If the tenant notifies you of intent to retrieve their belongings, you must give them an opportunity to return to the property to collect their items within thirty (30) days. If you dispose of their belongings you may face liability under Pennsylvania statute for the value of their items. You may also be subject to claims for punitive damages and attorneys fees. Therefore it is important you hold the belongings for thirty days and give tenant a chance to collect any remaining items. If tenant does not exercise this option you may safely dispose items after thirty (30) days.
The above post is not intended as legal advice, but is provided for merely information purposes only. The information provided herein should not be relied on for legal purposes. If you need to file an eviction please contact a Philadelphia Landlord Tenant lawyer to discuss your specific legal matter. Our office provides prompt and effective services to landlords and tenants in such matters. For a free consultation contact our office at 267-535-9776.