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Starting a Landlord/Tenant Action for Recovery of Possession (Eviction) with or without Damages
Self Help - Magisterial District Court

State and Local Court Rules Must Be Followed.

In Pennsylvania, a landlord may not undertake a “self-help” (without legal process) dispossession or eviction of his tenant for nonpayment of rent. In other words, a landlord must take a tenant to court and may not simply lock the tenant out, remove doors, turn off utilities or otherwise attempt to evict the tenant by methods other than legal process under the Landlord Tenant Act.

This informational section is concerned only with Landlord/Tenant Actions for Possession of Real Property Arising out of a Residential Lease and filed at the Magisterial District Court.

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I am a Landlord and I want to file an Eviction Action against a Tenant.
Do I go to Magisterial District Court or Common Pleas Court?

You must determine which action and court is most appropriate for your situation.

Note: Eviction or Ejectment? People sometimes use these terms to mean the same thing, but they are separate legal actions in Pennsylvania.

Eviction:

  • In Pennsylvania, what is commonly called "eviction," is correctly termed an "action for possession of real property under the Landlord and Tenant Act"
  • There is a simplified summary process for Eviction. The Magisterial District Court has standardized Landlord/Tenant complaint forms to complete and file.
  • An Eviction action can arise from a residential lease, such as an apartment or house, or a commercial lease, for a retail store or other business.
  • There must be a recognized Landlord/Tenant relationship for a plaintiff to file for possession of real property.
  • An Eviction action is filed at the Magisterial District Court and is usually faster and less expensive than Ejectment.

Ejectment:

  • In Pennsylvania, Ejectment is a complex action taken in the Court of Common Pleas for the possession of real property where there is no Landlord/Tenant relationship due to expiration of a lease or default on the part of the tenant.
  • The Court of Common Pleas does not provide forms for Ejectment actions.
  • Ejectment may be the proper action when a former Landlord/Tenant relationship no longer exists and the Tenant refuses to vacate.
  • Ejectment is not intended to be an action used to evict family members, friends or guests from a home.
  • If you never had a recognized Landlord/Tenant relationship with the party you are trying to remove from your property and/or wish to file an Ejectment action in the Court of Common Pleas, please consult an attorney.
To which Magisterial District Court should I go?

If you file a suit in Magisterial District Court, you must determine which Magisterial District Judge has authority to handle the suit. Magisterial District Judges Rule 502 governs where a Landlord/Tenant Action for Recovery of Real Property may be filed. Landlord/Tenant cases are usually filed at the Magisterial District Court in which the rental property is located. To determine which Lehigh County Magisterial District Court office covers a certain address, use the MDJ locator.

Do I need to hire an Attorney?

In Magisterial District Court, an attorney is not required to represent an individual, but it may be advisable to have one present for certain types of cases. If you choose to represent yourself, there is no assistance available from the Magisterial District Court office staff. You must be prepared to follow court rules and prepare your own documents.

If the Landlord is a corporation, partnership or other organization, see Pa.R.C.P.M.D.J. No. 207 and 207.1, Representation in Magisterial District Court Proceedings for the rules concerning representation by an attorney or other agent.

Form for Authorization of Representative Pursuant to Pa. R.C.P.M.D.J. NO. 207(b)

If you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website.

Do I need to pay for filing the complaint?

In most cases, yes. You will pay filing fees and fees to have the complaint served on the other party. Keep in mind that if you succeed in the suit, the party you are suing (the defendant) may be required to pay you back for the court costs.

I am ready to file.
Before you begin

Important information

  • You, the LANDLORD, will be the PLAINTIFF.
  • The TENANT(S) you are suing will be the DEFENDANT(S). You will need their name and address.
  • You must have a signed copy of any lease agreement you have with the tenants.
  • You must know the exact amount of rent in arrears and any other money/damages you are suing for, including all expenses.
  • Ensure that you have followed the laws and notice requirements in the Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act.
Step 1 Form Preparation

Complete the Landlord and Tenant Complaint form fully and neatly. Be sure to provide enough information so the person you are suing knows why he or she is being sued.

NOTE: One copy of the landlord-tenant complaint with original signature is required for the magisterial district judge. You will be charged filing costs and service costs when the complaint is filed at the district court office. No changes may be made to this form either in content or format.

Step 2 Filing and Serving the Complaint

Once the complaint is completed, you must file it at the correct Magisterial District Court office. Be prepared to pay the filing fees.

Although the complaint may be filed by mail, it is advisable to submit it personally to the Magisterial District Court office. It will be easier for the clerk to tell you whether your complaint form is acceptable. It will also be easier to determine precisely what fees you must pay.

There will be an additional fee for service of the complaint to the defendant which will vary according to how it is served.

Once you have filed a complaint, the Magisterial District Court office staff will set a hearing date which shall be not less than seven (7) or more than fifteen (15) days from the date the complaint is filed.

The law requires that before the hearing, the other party must receive a copy of the complaint. The Magisterial District Court will serve the complaint according to Rule 506 Service of Complaint which states:

  1. The magisterial district judge shall serve the complaint by mailing a copy of it to the defendant’s last known address by first class mail and noting on the docket the date of such mailing, and by delivering a copy of it for service to the sheriff of, or any certified constable in, the county in which the office of the magisterial district judge is situated. If this service is not available to the magisterial district judge, service may be made by any certified constable of the Commonwealth. The officer receiving the copy shall serve it by handing it to the defendant or to an adult person in charge for the time being of the premises possession of which is sought to be recovered or, if none of the above is found, by posting it conspicuously on those premises.
  2. The copy shall be served at least five days before the hearing.

I filed a Landlord and Tenant action against my Tenant, now what happens?

Once you have filed a complaint, the Magisterial District Court office staff will set a hearing date which shall be not less than seven (7) or more than fifteen (15) days from the date the complaint is filed. The Magisterial District Court office staff will serve your Tenant with a copy of the complaint and notice of the hearing date and time.

I Have my Hearing Date and Time. What should I do before the hearing?

Consult with your attorney if you choose to have one. Gather and organize any leases, notices, bills, receipts, rent demands, and other letters or documents relating to the suit. You must bring any document that is important to your case with you to the hearing. The Magisterial District Judge will only consider documents presented at the hearing. It is also a good idea to inform any witnesses of the date of the hearing.

What happens at the hearing?

At the hearing, persons present will be the Magisterial District Judge; you (the Plaintiff); your witnesses; your lawyer, if you choose to have one, the defendant; defense witnesses; and possibly the defendant's lawyer. The Courtroom may be open to the public as well. The Magisterial District Judge will explain the procedure to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions. During the hearing, you will be given an opportunity to explain what happened that caused you to sue the Defendant/Tenant. You may be asked to show any leases, notices, bills, receipts, rent demands, or other letters you have to the Magisterial District Judge. You will probably be asked questions by the Defendant/Tenant, or possibly by the Magisterial District Judge. Then your witnesses may be allowed to tell what they know about the case. The Defendant/Tenant will be given the same opportunity. You will also be permitted to ask questions of the Defendant/Tenant.

The Magisterial District Judge's decision may be made at the hearing or you may be informed of the decision within five days of the hearing by mail.

What happens if I win?

If you succeed in your case, you will get a judgment/transcript on paper (this may be mailed to you if the Magisterial District Judge decides to think about the case before ruling) stating one or more of the following:

  • Possession of property has been granted to you, the Plaintiff/Landlord
    • Tenant has been evicted and cannot stay even if they pay you. The tenant may still appeal the eviction within 10 days of the judgement.
  • Possession of property has been granted to you. If the money judgment is not satisfied by the time of eviction.
    • Tenant can be evicted, if they do not pay what they owe you or appeal in 10 days.
  • Defendant/Tenant owes you a specific amount of money for rent in arrears, filing fees and any other damages you claimed.
  • Sample Judgment

However, even if the ruling grants you, the Landlord, "immediate" possession of the property, the defendant has 10 days from the date of the judgment to appeal the decision/eviction to the Common Pleas Court and you cannot evict the Tenant and/or collect your money until that time has passed.

The court does not pay you the money that the judgment awards you. In most cases, it is your responsibility to file the judgment in the Court of Common Pleas and collect the money from the defendant through wage garnishment or other legal collection methods. The losing party does have the right to appeal, which may delay any collection.

My Tenant did not appeal or pay or move out within the 10 days.

If you win and the defendant does not appeal the eviction within 10 days, you, the Landlord/plaintiff may be able to go to the Magisterial District Court and request that an Order of Possession under Rule 515 be entered by the Magisterial District Judge. This Order of Possession is commonly called "an eviction notice."

The Plaintiff/Landlord may ask for an Order of Possession as soon as the 11th day after the judgment or, if the Landlord and Tenant are trying to come to an agreement, the Landlord may choose to request an Order for Possession anytime within 120 days after the judgment.

What Does the Order of Possession Do?

Under Rule 516. Issuance and Reissuance of Order for Possession, the Magisterial District Judge will deliver the Order for Possession to the sheriff or a constable who will serve it upon the Defendant/Tenant. The Order of Possession gives the Tenant 10 more days to vacate the premises. This Order does not collect the rent or other money owed to the Landlord. Read the entire text of Rule 516 for more information.

What happens if my Tenant still does not move out after the Order of Possession?

See Rule 519 b. Forcible Entry and Delivery of Possession. This Rule states:

If, on or after the eleventh (11th) day following the service of the Order for Possession in cases arising out of a residential lease, the defendant or any unauthorized occupant remains on the real property, the officer executing the order for possession shall use such force as may be necessary to enter upon the property, by the breaking in of any door or otherwise, and to eject the defendant and any unauthorized occupant and shall deliver possession of the real property to the plaintiff or the plaintiff's agent.

What is a Default Judgment in Favor of the Plaintiff?

Judgment in favor of the Plaintiff/Landlord means that you, the Plaintiff/Landlord, will be awarded the judgment asked for without having to present your case to the Magisterial District Judge. You win because the Defendant/Tenant failed to appear in court or did not defend the action.

What can do if I lost?
If you, the Landlord, lost the case and the Magisterial District Judge's decision is in favor of the Defendant/Tenant, you also have the right to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.
  • If you are appealing from the judgment of possession, you have 10 days from the date the Magisterial District Judge made the decision.
  • If you are only appealing the money part of a judgment, you must file your appeal within 30 days of the date the Magisterial District Judge made the decision.
The appeal process may be too complicated to handle without a lawyer. If you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website

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Disclaimer
The forms and instructions that are available from this website are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Court employees cannot give you legal advice or help you fill out /complete the forms. It is your responsibility to read and complete the forms and to take required steps to file and serve the documents. If you decide to use these forms in an actual action, be prepared to spend appropriate time gathering information, completing forms and following the Rules of Court. The Court assumes no responsibility for the use of these forms and accepts no liability for actions taken by using these documents, including reliance on the instructions and/or contents. To obtain legal advice and to insure the proper use of this material, you should contact a lawyer.

If you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website.

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