Even when there is no lease between a landlord and a renter, a legal tenancy still exists. A landlord can formally evict a tenant in Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons, including failure to pay rent or the occurrence of an illegal activity.
If the tenant is month to month ("holdover tenant” or “tenant at will”), or there is no lease agreement, the landlord can evict the tenant at the end of any month provided they give the tenant proper notice.
Landlords cannot self-evict renters by changing the locks or evict the tenant in any retaliatory manner. They must serve the tenant with a written notice and formally file an eviction proceeding in court.
Good Cause for Evicting a Tenant
Pennsylvania's Landlord Tenant Act states that landlords must have reason, or good cause, to evict a tenant with a lease. A renter otherwise has a right to stay in the rental unit until their lease term ends, as long as they live up to their end of terms of the lease.
If they do not have a written lease, Pennsylvania law considers the renter’s tenancy to be month to month. In that case either the landlord or the renter can end the relationship at the end of any month, for any reason or for no reason.
Evicting a Tenant for Failure to Pay Rent
Pennsylvania state law considers rent late if it is one day past due for both month-to-month and fixed-lease tenants. Before a landlord can begin the eviction process for nonpayment of rent, they must notify the tenant with a 10-Day Notice to Quit.
This notice gives the renter 10 days to pay their unpaid rent. They must resolve the nonpayment within this notice period or move out. If they do neither, the landlord can begin an eviction lawsuit.
Eviction for Illegal Activity
If a renter has engaged in illegal activity while on the property, the landlord can give the renter a 10-Day Notice to Quit before beginning the eviction process.
But note that if the landlord evicts the tenant due to drug-related criminal activity on the property, they are not required to give the renter written notice before filing for eviction. In that instance, they landlord files the eviction case in Common Pleas Court and not in a Magisterial District court.
Evictions for Lease or Rental Agreement Violations
Both parties must uphold written lease or rental agreement terms to avoid violations. If there is a lease violation on behalf of the tenant, the landlord can serve a 15-Day Notice to Quit to tenants at will and tenants on a fixed lease who have lived in the unit for one year or less.
The landlord can serve those who have lived on the property for more than a year with a 30-Day Notice to Quit. If the tenant does not move out within that time, the landlord can file an eviction action.
Evicting a Tenant Without a Lease
In Pennsylvania, a landlord can evict a tenant without reason who has no lease or whose lease has already ended. However, when doing so, they must first terminate the tenancy by giving the tenant proper notice.
Renters living in the unit for less than a year must receive a 15-day notice from the landlord to vacate the property, and those who have lived in a unit more than a year must receive a 30-day notice from the landlord to vacate the property.
In this instance, a renter does not have the option to stay. When the tenancy ends, and the renter hasn’t left, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings.
Illegal Evictions in Pennsylvania
A landlord may not evict a tenant for certain actions, according to the federal Fair Housing Act and the state of Pennsylvania.
A landlord cannot evict:
- Due to the renter’s age, ancestry, color, national origin, race, religion, sex or that of any household member.
- Due to a member of the rental's household or an acquaintance being disabled and using a guide dog or other support animal.
- Due to the pregnancy or children of the renter or a household member.
Written Notice and Eviction in Pennsylvania
Unless a lease states otherwise, the landlord must give the renter an eviction notice telling the renter when they need to vacate the leased premises. The length of the lease dictates when the landlord asks the renter to leave. The notice must also state the landlord’s reasons for evicting the tenant.
In addition to a 10-day notice for nonpayment of rent, the notice will state the tenant's deadline to respond or act 15 days before the landlord files the eviction case if the tenant’s lease is one year or less, and 30 days before the landlord files the eviction case, if the tenant’s lease is a year or longer.
What to Include in an Eviction Notice
The notice must include:
- Name of landlord.
- Names of all renters.
- Property address.
- Reason for the notice.
- Statement that landlord will pursue legal action if the renter does not meet the notice’s demands and they will be evicted.
If the notice is for nonpayment of rent, it should include the amount owed, how and where to make payment, and the deadline to make the payment or move out.
In the case of lease or rental agreement violations, the tenant's only option is to contest the eviction proceeding in court or move out by the deadline stated on the notice. The landlord should keep a copy of the notice for future reference.
Serving the Eviction Notice
The landlord must serve the eviction notice by:
- Delivering it to the renter in person.
- Leaving the notice at the property’s main building, such as the front door.
- Posting or securing it to a visible location on the property.
The landlord should keep a written record of how the notice was served, who served it, who it was served to, where it was posted, and the time and date of service.
Court Process for Eviction in Pennsylvania
Eviction hearings in Pennsylvania are usually held before a Magisterial District court judge. The renter has the right to appear at the eviction hearing with any witnesses or other evidence. The landlord must appear in court and give testimony as to why the renter faces eviction. If the landlord fails to appear, the court will dismiss the case.
The renter’s appearance is extremely important – if they miss the hearing or are late to it, the landlord can win the case by default. If the renter cannot attend, they should contact the court to ask if the hearing can be rescheduled for a later date.
Appealing a Court Order
If the renter loses, they can appeal to a higher court, but they have only 10 days to do so. To remain in the unit during that time, they must pay either the rent amount stated in the judgment or three-months' rent, whichever is less, at the time of filing their appeal.
Payment of Rent
If they are indigent, they must prove that they cannot pay and will need to pay only one-third of their monthly rent and pay the remaining two-thirds within 20 days to the Department of Court Records. If they have already paid rent, or a judge determines they don't owe anything, they can simply appeal.
Renters can continue paying their rent into an escrow account with the Department of Court Records. A renter making rent payments in court can stop the eviction by paying the amount the Magisterial District judge ordered. This payment includes court fees.
Writ of Possession
If the tenant loses their case and does not appeal the eviction, the landlord wins a judgment for possession, meaning the rental property can be returned to the owner by eviction or by the tenant voluntarily leaving. After the 10-day appeal period passes, the property owner can file for a Writ of Possession, which is served to the renter or posted on the property.
This writ lets the renter know they are being physically evicted from the property on or after 11 days after it is served. A constable or sheriff can begin physically evicting the renter 22 days after the hearing.
After the tenant is out, the unit will be padlocked or have a new lock altogether, and the renter will not be able to access the unit again without the landlord’s permission.
Paying Rent to Satisfy the Judgment
If the eviction is because the tenant has not paid rent, they can stop the proceeding any time by paying the amount due before the eviction takes place. If that happens, the landlord should tell the court that the renter has satisfied the judgment.
If the landlord does not do so, the renter should file a request in writing to the court asking to mark the judgment satisfied and serve the property owner with that notice.
If the property owner does not inform the court within 90 days of the written request (without good cause) that the renter has satisfied the judgment they will be liable to the renter for 1 percent of the amount of the judgment. This amount may be from $250 up to $2,500 for each month that the landlord does not mark the judgment satisfied.
Self-Help and Retaliatory Evictions in Pennsylvania
If a landlord chooses to evict a tenant, they must always go through a formal eviction process in court. They cannot conduct self-help or retaliatory evictions, meaning they cannot take matters into their own hands. If they do, the tenant could sue them.
Examples of self-help or retaliatory evictions include:
- Changing the locks on a unit.
- Turning off the renters utilities.
- Making threats to shut off essential services to the renter.
- Removing the renter’s belongings.
Eviction and a Tenant’s Personal Property
A landlord must give a tenant 10 days to make contact after eviction to get their personal property back. If the tenant contacts the landlord within that time, the landlord must store the property for at least 30 days.
The landlord cannot charge the renter for holding the property if the renter makes contact in the 10-day period, but can charge them if contact occurs after that time. The renter must retrieve their personal property within 30 days. If they don’t, the landlord can dispose of the property by selling it or throwing it away.
Once the eviction occurs, the renter’s county assistance office can help with emergency shelter as can churches and community agencies in their area. If evicted parties can’t find an affordable place to live, they can also apply for subsidized housing with a Housing Authority office in their area.
- Community Legal Service of Philadelphia: The Eviction Process in Philadelphia County
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 1951 Act 20 Section 503 Hearing; Judgment; Writ of Possession
- HUD.gov: Know Your Fair Housing Rights When You Are Facing Eviction
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 1951 Act 20 Section 505-A Use of Illegal Drugs
- Pennsylvania Legislature: 1951 Act 20 Section 501 Notice to Quit
- Attorney General.gov: Consumer Guide to Tenant and Landlord Rights
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.