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The Ultimate Guide to the Philadelphia Eviction Process

By Nicole Sarrate

Brotherly Love Real Estate

Wondering how to evict a tenant in Philadelphia? Lawyers, and Trials, and Bailiffs, oh my!

 

While this circumstance is neither desired, nor stress-free, for either party involved, knowing the predictable process is an important tool to help you prevail. That’s why I’m here to walk you through the E to N of the eviction process in Philadelphia.

 

In other words, don’t worry, we’ve got this!

You’re Not Alone – Cue: Sarah, Now a Philadelphia Eviction Process Pro

 

I would like to introduce you to Sarah, who is now well trained in the Philadelphia eviction process.

 

Sarah saved to finally join the prestigious group of home buyers in Philadelphia. But, instead of buying into that white picket fence, she bought into her future by purchasing a duplex. Sure, it’s ragged (read: value-add), but she knew with his first passing grunt, her biggest hurdle would be the inherited tenant.

 

Mr. Lawrence, living on fixed income, couldn’t afford a rent increase. The way he saw it: if I don’t ask for anything, they can’t ask for anything. While this strategy seemed to work for some time, keeping his rent well below market, eventually, sh*t will start to stink… in this case, literally.

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Sarah was privy to this before purchasing (I mean, who could miss a plumbing problem so apparent it literally stinks up the place!), but she didn’t account for Mr. Lawrence. Despite the stench and suspicious water stain growing on the ceiling, Mr. Lawrence refused to allow access for repairs. Hence why the previous owner was selling a house in bad condition.

 

However, savvy Sarah knew that lease was coming up for renewal in a few months, so she settled on making the repairs then. Unfortunately, upon receiving the Lease Termination Letter, Mr. Lawrence decided he would no longer pay rent, nor was he willing to leave.

Hey Siri: How Does the Eviction Process Work in Philadelphia?

 

Still feeling suffocated about your situation? If so, I really hope it doesn’t involve poo. Nonetheless, I’m sure anyone facing a Philadelphia eviction may feel a bit overwhelmed.

 

Hopefully Siri brought you straight to me, because I have good news. I’m here to provide you the resources you need to decipher the Philadelphia eviction process.

 

I would bet that one of your first questions are, how long does the eviction process take in Philadelphia? So, let’s get started with this handy timeline of the Philadelphia eviction process to help you take on this Donkey Kong!

Estimated Eviction Process Timeline

1. Eviction Notice/Notice to Vacate

    • If the term has ended or for breach of lease:
      1. 30 days for leases less than 1 year (including month to month)
      2. 90 days for leases of a year +
    • If for non-payment:
      1. 15 days between April – September
      2. 30 days between September – April
    • While the above-mentioned notification times are PA’s set standard, the landlord has the right on the lease to waive the above referenced notification period, except on any public, subsidized, and Section 8 leases.

2. Landlord-Tenant Complaint – sets hearing date

    • Once this form is submitted to the court, it may take 10+ business days to have a set court date. This may vary, depending on multiple factors, such as the time of year (i.e. holidays), and if the courts are back-up due to, say… a pandemic.

3. The Hearing

    • The Judgement will be issued either at the hearing or within 5 business days after the hearing.
    • An Appeal may be filed within 30 days from when the Judgement is entered. If the tenant Appeals, it may take 9-12 months to get a court date.

4. Order of Possession

    • 15 days after the Judgement for Possession is entered, the landlord may have law enforcement give the tenant an “Order of Possession.”
    • The date to vacate given on the Order cannot be less than 15 days from the date the tenant is given the Order.
    • Therefore, the least amount of time law enforcement can remove the tenant from the premises is 30 days after the Judgement of Possession.

Philadelphia Eviction Process Timeline

 

To sum this up: a Philadelphia eviction, from eviction notice to removing the tenant, could take roughly 2-4 months. Assuming the tenant doesn’t appeal, which would complicate matters.

The Best Way to Approach a Philadelphia Eviction

 

Ugh, I know, but wait! Before you start trying to figure out what your capital gains tax on the home sale would be, there are many considerations aside from timeline that may motivate you to keep the property. Truth be told, as a landlord of any portfolio size, you will probably need to go through an eviction at some point, so might as well explore this option.

 

Unfortunately for Sarah, she had to learn how to evict a tenant in Philadelphia with her first tenant. However, one of the great things about real estate is research and resources can help level the playing field when luck is not on your side.

 

I was honored that Sarah came to me as a friend and resource to help her, just as I am to have you here today. I shared with Sarah a piece of critical advice I received from Gregory Spadea of Spadea & Associates, a brilliant Philadelphia real estate attorney. If you need answers from Gregory, he can be reached at (610) 521-0604.

What NOT to do when evicting a tenant in Philadelphia:

  • Discriminate, specifically towards race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability.
  • Improper or Self-Help Eviction, as defined in Section 9-1602 (i.e. changing the locks, cutting of utilities, threaten the tenant, using force, etc.).
    • Keep in mind that if you’re found guilty of such a claim, you may be looking at a minimum of $100 fine, for each day of the offense. Or in extreme cases, imprisonment.
  • Neglect maintenance that effects the habitability of the property (i.e. no heat during winter, major sewage issues, pest infestation, etc.).
    • Not only could this end up in the situation of selling a house in bad condition AND paying capital gains tax on home sale, this could also be argued in court as an improper eviction, leading to further consequences noted above. Plus, the tenant would have grounds to withhold rent in this circumstance. It’s just an overall terrible tactic which should be avoided.

The second piece of advice I gave Sarah was to try to avoid an eviction all together, if possible. It’s in both their interest after all, as a Philadelphia eviction can be costly for landlord and tenant alike.

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Here’s a few strategies and resources I’d like to share with you to try to help defuse your situation:

 

Unfortunately for Sarah, despite her every attempt, Mr. Lawrence was unwavering.

The Temptation to Give Up on the Philadelphia Eviction Process

 

I won’t lie, at this point Sarah was anxious and so terrified of the Philadelphia eviction process that she desperately told herself, “I need to sell my house fast.”  She even answered one of those “we buy houses in Philadelphia” ads. Fortunately, I was able to convince her to replace her google search for “how much does it cost to sell your house,” with “how to write an eviction notice.”

 

While I stand behind the spirit of my advice, I must admit this only added to her stress.

 

Go ahead, try it; ad after ad, sample after sample. As Sarah can attest, this can be overwhelming. It had her wondering if she even cared about the capital gains tax on home sale anymore!

 

She knew how important it is for the letter to be correct because, if it’s not, Mr. Lawrence could use that as a defense at the hearing. If she lost, she would have to begin the process again by delivering a corrected eviction notice. She was particularly concerned that these generic examples, even those stated for Pennsylvania, wouldn’t meet the legal requirements specific to Philadelphia.

 

Lucky for you, I’m a good friend and sought out some pointers for her on what must be included on a Philadelphia eviction notice from Philadelphia eviction attorney extraordinaire, Scott from Curley & Rothman, LLC. Scott is a great resource to help when going through an eviction, and can be reached at (610) 834-8819.

 

I did promise you the ULTIMATE guide to evictions in Philadelphia after all. See, research can help your luck!

What to include on a Philadelphia Eviction Notice:

 

  • Date the Notice was served to the tenant
  • Tenant name
  • Address/Rental Unit
  • Reason for eviction
    • Feel free to visit here if you want a little more on this topic, but the basic jest is: per Section 250.501 of PA law, there are 3 permissible ways how to evict a tenant in Philadelphia:
      • End of lease – you may state you simply don’t wish to renew the lease.
      • Breach of lease – you would state the breach, which you are able to corroborate with evidence (more on that later).
      • Non-payment/back rent – you would include the total amount past due, any late charges, and where/who the late charges should be sent.
    • Required move out date
      • Just a reminder that, while you can waive the below requirements in advance on the lease. If you didn’t do so, or if the lease is government subsidized, the way to determine the move-out date would be to start counting the dates as of the day AFTER the letter is delivered per the below timeframes:
        • If the term has ended or for breach of lease:
          • 30 days for leases less than 1 year (including month to month)
          • 90 days for leases of a year +
        • If for non-payment:
          • 15 days between April – September
          • 30 days between September – April
        • Statement of how the notice is being delivered
          • The letter must be personally delivered to the tenant or posted somewhere visible for the tenant, such as on the door. It cannot be mailed, even if certified.
          • Pro Tip: keep VERY specific records of how this was delivered including the date, time, method of delivery, who it was given to if direct, or take a time stamped photo if posted on door, etc. The more details you record, the less believable it will be if the tenant tries to claim they didn’t receive the notice.

Here’s a sample of Sarah’s letter format to help you along (in this case, plagiarism is encouraged): Click Here for a FREE Download of Philadelphia Eviction Notice

Philadelphia eviction notice

Where Do I Go to Start Eviction Process in Philadelphia?

 

Determined to avoid selling a house in bad condition, Sarah didn’t waste any time! The day AFTER the stated move-out date, she went straight to 1339 Chestnut Street (the Philadelphia Municipal Court), up to the 10th Floor, to file the Landlord-Tenant Complaint with the Court’s First Filing Office.

 

She also included the back rent and attorney’s fees on the complaint so both Judgements, one for Possession and the other for Money, may be processed together. If you should have additional costs, such as damages, you may also include these amounts on your complaint. Just keep in mind to fill out the appropriate section for each cost by category (i.e. rent and damages would be listed separately under their own section).

 

Bonus Tip: for those of you who cannot make it to the court to file the paperwork, you may authorize someone to submit it on your behalf by filing out the Authorization Of Representative form.

 

I’ve linked these documents for you, but just to add a bonus to your bonus, all documents may be found here, under “For the Public.” Just scroll down the webpage to locate the “Landlord” heading for all relevant landlord forms.

 

One more thing, TRIPLE BONUS: you may also find a list of all filing fees here. Are we BFFs yet?

When submitting the Landlord-Tenant Complaint, you should also include documentation to help support your compliant, such as:

  • The Philadelphia lease agreement
  • Correspondence between yourself (landlord) and tenant
  • Photographs, invoices, estimates, cancelled/bounced checks, bank statements, witness statement, or any other documentation that can be submitted as evidence

 

Forgot something? No need to kick yourself on the caboose. Whatever was not attached to the original filing can be sent to the tenant’s attorney at least 10 days prior to the trial.

 

Which reminds me, one common mistake for novice investors who buy homes in Philadelphia is not realizing the required documents to be one those “we buy houses in Philadelphia” rental tycoons.

 

BEFORE filing for a Philadelphia eviction, please be sure you have the following, most of which are required by Section PM-102.6 of the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code:

If you would like some PA specific info on this, check out this video.

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So, just like you’d be weary of buying from someone selling a house with unpermitted work, avoid getting yourself in unnecessary trouble with the City of Philadelphia by having your “docs” in a row (haha… get it?! Ducks… docs… oh, dad jokes, you get me every time!).

 

Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, Sarah’s stinky situation.

 

Sarah assumed Mr. Lawrence received the Complaint Summons, which sets the date, time and location of the hearing (by law it is to be delivered to a tenant both in person by an officer and by mail), but was suspicious of his newfound peppy demeanor. That is, until she found out he was countersuing her for his security deposit, and claiming to withhold rent due to constructive eviction by maintenance negligence!

Don’t We All Just Want to Be Heard?!

 

And just like that, all those despairing thoughts came flooding back. I need to sell my house fast! Wondering how much does it cost to sell your house, concerned how difficult it would be selling a house in bad condition on her own. Just the thought of dealing with the eviction process in Philadelphia now made her question her decision to become a landlord.

 

Thankfully, by now Sarah had retained Daniel from the Law Offices of Daniel W. Katz Esquire LLC, who helped her off the ledge. Sarah has kept Daniel’s phone number, (267) 655-4167,‬ on speed dial.

 

Pro Tip: While landlords are required to be represented by an attorney for evictions filed in Philadelphia, this is not the case everywhere. However, having an attorney on your side is worth more than the appreciation on that bitcoin you bought back in 2013. Not only can they save you money by avoiding costly/timely errors throughout the process, their experience is invaluable for your defense.

 

Hearing day was finally here! Sarah was sure to plan additional time to get to the Municipal Court at 1339 Chestnut St, knowing how traffic, parking, and those inexplicably long lines going through security could be. She hoped it was a sign of luck that she made it through the 6th floor rather quickly to allow her some time to chat with Daniel.

 

Sensing her nervousness, he reassured her she wouldn’t have to worry about selling a house in bad condition and walked her through the hearing process.

 

“Just remember, I’m here for you. So if you have any questions, direct them to me, or, only if needed, to the judge. I know the tenant has been very difficult so if he says anything infuriating, it will only strengthen your case if you remain calm, polite, and let him speak his piece. I will object for you if any issues arise.”


Here’s how the eviction hearing will go:

  • “You will testify under oath, and the tenant’s attorney will cross examine you. You’ve submitted a ton of evidence to support your claim so don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
  • Then the tenant will testify under oath and it’s our turn to cross examine. His evidence is weak, and we will emphasize how it contradicts his story.
  • Hopefully the judge issues a Judgement today, but, if not, we should hear back within 5 days.”

 

Psssst… I know, it’s enthralling to eavesdrop. Sorry to interrupt, but I have some information that may just help you. If the tenant doesn’t show up to the hearing, you would win by default. Woohoo! However, if, for whatever reason, you/your attorney, doesn’t attend the hearing, your case will be thrown out. Okay, now back to Sarah….

 

She won! Fireworks, confetti, and balloons surrounded the court room. Me? Exaggerate?! I take offense to that.

 

Here’s where I’d love to tell you this chapter is closed, but the tenant also has the right to Appeal. So, Mr. Lawrence appea…sed (you thought I was going to say appealed, didn’t you?). I’m happy to say this situation didn’t apply to Sarah, but just in case you find yourself here…

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This is some quick info regarding the Appeals process:

  • The tenant (or landlord) may file an Appeal within 30 days with the Appeals Court at the Court of Common Pleas, City Hall, Room 296.
  • The tenant may be required to post a bond, unless that is waived or adjusted by the courts.
    • Usually bond is the amount of rent in the Judgement or 3 month’s rent, whichever is less.
    • Indigent tenants, tenants who can show they are unable to pay the full bond, will only have to pay 1/3rd of the monthly rent to file the Appeal, and then the remaining 2/3rds within 20 days.
      • However, if the indigent tenant fails to make the required monthly rent payment into court, you (the landlord) can file to terminate the Appeal and return to the Municipal Court to enforce the Judgment for Possession.
    • The bond goes into escrow with the Department of Court Records while the Appeal is pending.
  • If the tenant continues to make the monthly rent payment into court, you will not be able to evict the tenant until the outcome of the Appeal. However, keep in mind it may take 9-12 months to have a court date, so you may file a motion to have the payments made into court released to you while the Appeal is pending.

 

To reiterate this important tip, have a great real estate attorney on your team, especially if you find yourself going through an Appeal. They are a tremendous resource to all investors, and not only in times of desperation. They can help you save capital gains tax on a home sale, they can help you navigate selling a house with unpermitted work, or if you need to know how to sell your house without a realtor, and so much more.

Possess Your Home Through the Philadelphia Eviction Process!

 

While Sarah celebrated in court, she still couldn’t send Mr. Lawrence packing, and didn’t have Judgement funds to ensure she wouldn’t be selling a house in bad condition.

 

After the Judgement for Possession was entered, she waited the 15 days required before law enforcement could give Mr. Lawrence the Order of Possession, which sets the date he must vacate. Just in case you don’t recall, the date to vacate must be 15 days after the tenant is given the Order of Possession.

 

30 days after the Judgment for Possession, an officer arrived to insure Mr. Lawrence’s move. Thankfully, Mr. Lawrence had already escorted himself out, allowing Sarah to immediately change the locks and do a proper inspection of the unit.

 

Here’s a couple reasons why it’s important to do an inspection immediately upon any tenant’s move-out, but especially one that’s been evicted. Upon inspection, Sarah found some left-over items and more evidence that neglecting maintenance is a bad practice, which will probably result in selling a house in bad condition for a discount, as the previous owner did. There are two issues to unpack here:

 

What to do with Abandoned Property? Lunge it out the 2nd floor window! Sorry, sometimes Barbarous Barb takes over; do NOT throw it out please.

 

Instead, send via First Class mail an Abandoned Property letter addressed to the tenant’s forwarding address, or emergency contact if no forwarding address was provided. It’s highly recommended you note this in your lease. But, generally speaking, you must allow the tenant 10 days to set a date to reclaim the property. If they don’t pick-up the items after 30 days, you may then discard or sell them.

Pro Tip: If you have to store items longer than 10 days, you may charge the tenant a storage fee.

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Secondly, what if further costs arise after the original complaint? Should further costs arise after the original filing when you first began the Philadelphia eviction process, you can file an additional complaint for the remaining balance.

 

However, Sarah decided it wasn’t worth the effort to open another case. You know Sarah by now, she was even worried about saving on the capital gains tax on the home sale, so she’s not the type to willingly lose money, but sometimes there are better ways. Mr. Lawrence never did pick-up his abandoned property, so she was able to sell those items, after the 30 day grace period, and use the security deposit to recoup most of the additional costs.

 

Important Tip: if you are returning any security deposit, you must do so within 30 days. If any of the deposit is being claimed, you must send the tenant an itemize list within 30 days of all the charges against their deposit. This is why it’s critical to get a forwarding address, and if possible, an emergency contact, from your tenant at the onset.

 

Finally, Sarah possessed the right anyone who buy homes in Philadelphia holds, to insure a safe and hospitable home.

Judgement Day: Successfully Navigating the Eviction Process in Philadelphia

 

But what about pay day? Did Sarah’s smart work and resourcefulness ever pay?

 

I’m happy to report, yes, and she was able to make the repairs to no longer worry about selling a house in bad condition.

 

I’m glad you asked though, because this may not always be the case.

 

If a Judgement for Money is granted, the tenant may pay all up front, or they may establish a payment plan for up to 6 months. It’s good to know the HHS Poverty guidelines to determine if your tenant may be a candidate for a payment plan.

 

However, even with a court order, it’s still possible the tenant doesn’t pay the Judgement. If you’re here, I feel you. The Philadelphia eviction process probably has you pretty warn down and I’m sure you’ve told yourself, I need to sell my house fast, as Sarah did countless times.

 

But I’m here to motivate and guide, not allow you to wallow in your sorrow. So, buck up and file a Request for Order of Execution. Not only does this help your fellow landlords by placing a Judgement on the tenant’s credit, this Order directs law enforcement to levy upon a tenant’s personal property to sell to pay the Judgement.

 

Moral of the story: evictions are hard, but if you wish to buy homes in Philadelphia to invest as rentals, they are a part of the territory. However, by reading this you’re already ahead of the game! Plus, one of the benefits of the eviction process in Philadelphia is that you’ll have a good Philadelphia eviction attorney to help you make easy work of it. Brotherly Love Real Estate is not an attorney or law office. This guide has information gathered from public online sources. Please consult a real estate attorney before acting on anything in regards to a Philadelphia eviction. You can contact one of the attorney’s listed above in this Ultimate Guide to the Philadelphia Eviction Process.

 

I really appreciate you sticking with me on this, I know it’s a lot to digest! So, if you’d ever like to quickly review this info, we are offering a condensed facts sheet, which includes the most important info.

Click Here to download our FREE Fact Sheet on the Philadelphia Eviction Process