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Starting a Small Claims Action against a Landlord
Self Help - Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas

State and Local Court Rules Must Be Followed.

This informational section is concerned only with actions filed on a small claims Civil Complaint at the Magisterial District Court by a Tenant agaist a landlord.

NOTE: Tenants are not able to use the Pennsylvania Landlord/Tenant Complaint form as it is designed for the Landlord to always be the Palintiff.

This section DOES NOT discuss EVICTION.

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

It is up to you to determine which action and court is most appropriate for your situation.

You may file a civil suit at Magisterial District Court if you have a complaint against a person or business and wish to recover an amount of money totaling $12,000 or less. This is called a civil lawsuit. The $12,000 limit does not include the court costs involved in the suit, or any interest which may be due on your claim. If you are successful, you are entitled to be reimbursed for court costs.

Cases for more than $12,000.00 must be filed at the Court of Common Pleas.

Claims for $12,000 or less may be filed in Common Pleas Court; however, Magisterial District Courts are less formal, less expensive and faster than Common Pleas Courts. The Magisterial District Court has standardized forms to complete and file. The Court of Common Pleas does not provide such forms in all cases. It is up to you to determine which court is most appropriate for your claim

I know I want to file at the Magisterial District Court, 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 302 is the rule which governs where a suit may be filed. Generally, the suit must be filed where the person you are suing lives or is located, or where your claim arose. For example, a small claim arising out of a traffic accident or contract dispute could be filed at the office of the Magisterial District Judge who serves the territory where the accident occurred or where the contract was signed. However, Rule 302 allows for other options. To determine which Lehigh County Magisterial District Court office covers a certain address, use the MDJ locator.

Landlord/Tenant cases are usually filed in the MDJ area 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, 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 you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh 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 win our claim, the party you are suing (the defendant/tenant) may be required to pay you back for the court costs. Pa.R.C.P.M.D.J. No. 206 sets forth those costs recoverable by the prevailing party.

I am ready to file.
Before you begin

Important information

  • You, the TENANT(S), will be the PLAINTIFF(S).
  • The LANDLORD(S) you are suing will be the DEFENDANT(S).
  • Ensure that you have a signed copy of any lease agreement and know its provisions.
  • Ensure that you have followed the laws and notice requirements in the Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act.
Step 1 Form Preparation
  • Note: Tenants are not able to use the Landlord/Tenant Complaint form as it is designed for the Landlord to always be the Plaintiff.

Complete the Civil Complaint form fully and neatly.

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

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 has been properly completed. It will also be easier to determine precisely what fees you must pay.

Once you have filed a complaint, the Magisterial District Court office staff will schedule a hearing between 12 and 60 days from the time you file. The law requires that before the hearing, the other party must receive a copy of the complaint.

This can be done in one of two ways:.

  1. CERTIFIED MAIL: You can request that the complaint be sent by certified mail. The letter will be delivered to the defendant and the receipt will be returned to the Magisterial District Court as proof that it was received; or
  2. PERSONAL SERVICE BY SHERIFF OR CONSTABLE: The complaint can be delivered by the sheriff or a constable for an additional fee which can be recovered if you win the suit. Sometimes having the complaint personally served is more effective because a person may not be home or may refuse to accept a certified letter and a sheriff or a constable can attempt to make service on the complaint.

Minor Court Civil Rule 307 Service of the Compliant and Rule 308 Service upon Individuals are available at http://www.pacodeandbulletin.gov

I filed a Small Claims Civil action against my Landlord, now what happens?

Once you have filed a complaint, the Magisterial District Court office staff will set a hearing date which shall be between 12 and 60 days from the date the complaint is filed, and the Magisterial District Court office staff will serve your Defendant/Landlord 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, and gather and organize any lease, notices, bills, receipts, rent demands, or other letters relating to the suit and the damages to your property. You must have any document that is important to your case with you. 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, those 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 will almost always 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 tell what happened that caused you to sue the defendant/landlord. Show any lease, notices, bills, receipts, or other letters you have to the Magisterial District Judge. You will probably be asked questions by the defendant/landlord, or possibly by the Magisterial District Judge. Then your witnesses may be allowed to tell what they know about the case. The defendant/Lanlord 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 it later by mail, within five days of the hearing.

What happens if I win?

If you succeed in your Small Claims Civil case, you will get a judgment/transcript on paper (this may be mailed to you if the MDJ opts to think about the case before ruling) stating the following:

  • Defendant/Landlord owes you a specific amount of money for the damages you claimed.
  • Here is a photo of a Sample Civil Judgement.

The court does not pay you the money the judgment awards you and 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 legal collection methods. The losing party does have the right to appeal, which may delay any collection.

The Defendant/Landlord has 30 days to appeal a Small Claims Civil Judgment to the Common Pleas Court.

What is a Default Judgment in Favor of the Plaintiff?

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

My Landlord did not appeal within the 30 days.

If you win and the defendant/landlord does not appeal the eviction within 30 days, you may determine the best method to collect your judgement.

The court does not pay you the money the judgment awards you and 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 legal collection methods. You may want to consult an attorney to determine how to collect your judgment.

What can I do if I lost my small claims case?

If you 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 a Small Claims Civil Judgment you have 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 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 Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website.

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