Deciding to evict a tenant is never easy. In most cases, everyone is better served if differences can be sorted out amicably and without involving the courts. However, when lease violations are consistent or egregious or when a tenant becomes seriously behind on rent, landlords don’t have many options. If you’re reaching the end of your rope with a problematic tenant, here is what you need to know about the eviction process in Pennsylvania.
Make Sure You’re Eligible to File
Before you can file for eviction, there are a few requirements on your part to keep in mind. First, if your property is located in the city of Philadelphia, you must have an active rental license without any open licensing and inspection violations. You must also have a rental suitability certificate that is dated prior to your tenant’s move-in date and it must be active on the date on which you file. If your property is in the counties surrounding Philadelphia (Bucks, Montgomery, Berks, Chester, and Delaware counties), you almost always must also have an active rental license from the city or township in which the building is located.
Consider the Pros and Cons
Even in the best-case scenario, the eviction process is expensive. Just filing the paperwork will set you back at least $350. When you add in attorney fees and court costs, you’ll be shelling out at least $800 – and that’s assuming the process goes smoothly. If the tenant decides to complicate things along the way by choosing to fight the eviction, you could end up spending even more. Before you begin the eviction process, make sure it’s worth your time and money. Consider the following ideas before falling back on eviction:
- Payment Plan. If your tenant is behind on rent due to circumstances that can be remedied (i.e., layoffs), then it might be more beneficial to work out a payment plan to get caught up. If you choose to go this route, it’s essential that your expectations are clear and that you have firm dates for when you expect each payment to arrive. Make sure to put any agreements in writing and that both you and the tenant sign the document.
- Break the Lease. Offer the tenant to break the lease with a penalty. Such penalties typically include forfeiture of the security deposit and last month’s rent. An amicable break will allow both parties to move on easier and more quickly than most evictions.
- Give it Time. You may be within your rights to evict for nonpayment of rent, but it may be beneficial to wait until the following month to see if the tenant can catch up on his or her payments. Once a tenant is behind on one full month’s rent by the 15th of the following month, then it’s time to proceed with an eviction.
In the City of Philadelphia, you are required by the courts to hire an attorney. In the surrounding cities and townships in the county, an attorney is not a requirement. However, it is strongly recommended that you do not try to represent yourself and that you stay in constant contact with your attorney for any upcoming court dates. In order to ensure a fair process for both parties, the courts are quite strict about having the correct documentation and that all forms are completed correctly and filed at the proper times. It can be overwhelming and complicated for a layperson, but a seasoned evictions attorney will have no problems.
If you are trying to cut costs by forgoing an attorney, keep in mind the risk of potential errors and consider how much time and money it will take to fix them. Remember, every day that the eviction is delayed is another day you’re not collecting rent from a new tenant. Getting the process done right, quickly, and efficiently the first time is critical to your bottom line.
The Basic Timeline
The actual timeline for your eviction proceeding will be determined by the court. However, the process is fairly standard for most proceedings:
- Notice to Quit. This is a document that you deliver to the tenant that includes the reason for the notice (i.e., lease violation or failure to pay rent). It should also include a specific date when the tenant must vacate the property: at least ten days from the date of service for failure to pay, 15 days for lease violations for a one-year lease, or 30 days for lease violations for leases greater than one year. You must also include the total amount due, if applicable, and a notification that you intend to take legal action if the tenant does not meet the demands of your notice.
- Landlord/Tenant Complaint. If the terms of your “Notice to Quit” are not met, you may file a landlord/tenant complaint with the magisterial judge. This is where you will state where your property is located and ask for possession of the property, reimbursement for any damages, and collection of unpaid rent. You’ll be given a hearing date, and the tenant will also be notified of this date.
- Order for Possession. Either at the hearing or within three days, the judge will make a decision as to whether your requests will be granted. If so, the tenant will be given at least ten days from the date of the decision before forcible removal by a constable.
On Eviction Day
When the constable arrives to formally evict your tenants, make sure you have someone with you who can immediately change the locks. If there are any belongings left in the unit, an “Abandoned Property” letter must be sent via First Class mail to the tenant at the rental’s address and to any forwarding address or emergency contacts you have on file. This letter notifies the tenant that he or she has ten days from the postmark date to retrieve any property or it will request that they store it for no more than 30 days.
If the tenant contacts you regarding their property, you must work out a day and time for he or she to retrieve their belongings. If no contact is made within ten days or if the tenant fails to return and collect his or her belongings within 30 days of contact, you are then free to dispose of any remaining property as you see fit. If you choose to sell any of the tenant’s belongings, the tenant is entitled to any proceeds.
You may first apply any proceeds to pay for costs the tenant owes you, but any remaining amounts must be sent to the tenant via certified mail. If you do not have a forwarding address, you must keep the proceeds for at least 30 days to give the tenant an opportunity to claim the money. After that time, you may keep it.
A Last Resort
The eviction process is complicated for the landlord and stressful for both parties. In many cases, the landlord and tenant can reach an agreement outside of the courts that is favorable for both so an eviction can be avoided. However, when a tenant refuses to cooperate or when no reasonable compromise can be made, remember that even tenants who violate the terms of a lease or who have not paid rent still have rights. Make sure to carefully follow all laws and procedures and hire an attorney who can help make the process less stressful for you while protecting your assets.
If you own a property in Philadelphia and want to avoid the headache of evicting a tenant, it’s time to consider hiring a property management company. Bay Management Group’s team will not only take care of all eviction services and suit filings, but they are well versed in all landlord-tenant laws and will handle all the paperwork and court proceedings, so you don’t have to. If you’re ready to get started, contact BMG today.