November 21st, 2022

Facing Eviction? A Tenant Lawyer Can Help

Facing the threat of eviction is stressful and overwhelming. As a tenant, you have rights under the law, and there may be steps you can take to stay in your home. At Gross McGinley, LLP, our landlord-tenant lawyers help clients understand their rights under Pennsylvania law. We discuss options and help them fight unlawful evictions.

Eviction Procedures in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania civil law, landlords must follow specific procedures and rules for evicting a tenant. Notice requirements vary depending on the reason for the eviction. The most common reason for a landlord to evict a tenant is failing to pay rent on time. In this case, a landlord usually must provide the tenant with a Notice to Quit, which gives the tenant 10 days to pay or vacate the premises. In cases involving lease violations or non-renewal of a lease, a landlord may be required to give a tenant 15 or 30 days to leave.

If the tenant does not pay rent or move out within the required period and decides to contest the eviction, the landlord can file a complaint with the Magisterial District Court or Court of Common Pleas where the property is located. Once the eviction is filed with the court, a Summons and Complaint must be served on the tenant. An eviction hearing is scheduled 7-10 days after the issuance of the summons.

In the hearing, the judge will determine whether an eviction is valid and can proceed. To win an eviction case, the landlord must provide an argument backed by evidence sufficient to convince the court that the landlord’s claims are true. Conversely, if it is determined that a landlord acted illegally, a court may award a tenant court costs and fees, and sometimes even damages.

If you’re dealing with an eviction, it’s important to consult an experienced landlord-tenant attorney immediately to ensure your rights are protected. Most landlords prefer to avoid litigation if they can, and these matters can often be resolved through negotiation or mediation. This can make the process much less stressful and help you avoid the impact of having an eviction on your credit report.

Defenses for Eviction in Pennsylvania

If want to fight an eviction and stay in your home, you must have grounds to do so. Some possible legal grounds for fighting an eviction include:

  • Your landlord used “self-help” eviction procedures. Even if an eviction is justified, your landlord is required to follow all eviction procedures as outlined under Pennsylvania civil law. If they fail to do this, the eviction may be ruled illegal by the court and a tenant may have grounds to file a lawsuit. For example, a landlord may not change the locks, shut off utilities, or take other steps to force a tenant to leave.
  • Errors in the eviction notice or service to the tenant. If an eviction notice fails to include important information, such as the number of days the tenant has to pay rent or vacate the premises, a judge may dismiss the case. This doesn’t mean a tenant won’t eventually face eviction. However, it does give you more time, as the landlord will have to restart the eviction process from the very beginning.
  • Your landlord does not have the legal justification to evict you. There are several aspects to this defense, depending on the circumstances. If your rent is paid up or you pay within 10 days of receiving a Notice to Quit, your landlord may not proceed with an eviction.

Landlords in Pennsylvania have a legal obligation to keep rental units maintained. This includes providing working heat, light, ventilation, and plumbing, secure doors and windows, and adequate sanitation and maintenance. If you’re withholding rent because the property is uninhabitable, you may have the legal right to withhold rent until repairs are made.

However, as a tenant, you must follow all state and local rules for withholding rent, such as notifying your landlord of a defect and giving them the opportunity to fix it. Usually, any rent that is withheld must be deposited into an escrow account until the problem is resolved.

Sometimes, a landlord may threaten an eviction due to a lease violation on the part of the tenant. However, if your landlord agrees to hold off on eviction if you fix the lease violation within a reasonable amount of time, and then continues the process even after the problem has been fixed, you may be able to use this as a defense in an eviction hearing.

Retaliation and Discrimination

You cannot be evicted for exercising a legal right, such as making a complaint to a housing authority or organizing a tenant union. If your landlord evicts you in retaliation for exercising one of these rights, you may have a solid claim for staying in your home or bringing a lawsuit against them.

The federal Fair Housing Act protects tenants from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status, and disability. If you’re facing eviction in violation of the Fair Housing Act, you may use that violation as a defense and counterclaim against an eviction.

Why You Need a Landlord-Tenant Attorney

Many tenants aren’t aware of their rights under Pennsylvania law. Our landlord-tenant lawyers can evaluate your case, advise you of your options, and give you the information you need to make informed decisions about your situation. If you’ve been illegally evicted, a civil litigation attorney may be able to help you bring a lawsuit against your former landlord and help you recover court costs, fees, and other damages. It never hurts to have our experienced attorneys look at your case to ensure all your legal bases are covered.

Contact a Pennsylvania Civil Litigation Attorney

At Gross McGinley, LLP, we’re passionate about protecting our clients’ interests and helping them understand their rights. To schedule a consultation with a landlord-tenant lawyer, contact us online or call us at 610-820-5450 today.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.