How do I Evict a Tenant?

If you’re a landlord, you might have faced this very real question: how do I evict a tenant? After all, it isn’t all that unusual to have an inconsiderate, messy, or possibly even dangerous tenant. So at some point, you may decide that it’s necessary to part ways and evict them from your property.

But here’s the catch. Evicting a tenant isn’t as easy as you might expect. For example, residential landlords are often surprised about the numerous requirements and the time it takes to evict. There’s also time and monetary costs to consider.

In Pennsylvania, the Landlord and Tenant Act governs the process. And strict compliance is vital to ensure that you evict a tenant legally. After reading this article, you may want to talk with a real estate attorney near you to cover all the bases. Our firm has years of experience assisting residential and commercial landlords in navigating their rights in Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region.

Steps Required for Evicting Tenants

Although various jurisdictions may differ slightly, typically, the process for how to evict a tenant follows these steps:

  1. Ensure you have appropriate grounds for an eviction
  2. Serve an official written eviction notice to the tenant
  3. Serve a summons and complaint if the tenant fails to comply
  4. Attend a court hearing and judgment
  5. Issuance of a writ of execution evicting the tenant
  6. Gaining possession of the property

So, as you can see, the process can take some time, anywhere from a month to two months or more from start to completion.

Grounds for Evicting a Tenant

The first step in an eviction is determining the basis for the removal. Pennsylvania requires a landlord to comply with notice requirements. In addition, the notice must include the tenant’s violation prompting the eviction. And that violation must be a valid reason. There are plenty of factors in play currently due to the pandemic and it's fallout, so touching base with a real estate attorney would be prudent to get the latest information.

You have grounds to evict a tenant for any one of these violations:

Failure to Pay Rent

Unsurprisingly, the primary reason for an eviction notice is a tenant who fails to pay rent or does so habitually. In Pennsylvania, rent is late one day after due. A landlord can take steps to evict the tenant with a 10-Day Notice to Quit, giving them ten days to settle unpaid rent. If the tenant fails to pay after the notice to quit, a landlord can continue filing an eviction action.

Violations of the Rental Agreement

Pennsylvania allows a landlord to evict a tenant for violating written lease terms. For example, the tenant may have a pet or roommate prohibited by the lease agreement. In this case, the landlord presents a 15-Day Notice to Quit for tenants residing at the property for one year or less.

For tenants residing at the property for greater than one year, the landlord presents a 30-Day Notice to Quit.

In either case, the tenant must move out of the property within that timeframe. Otherwise, the landlord can file an action to evict them.

Illegal Activities

Landlords can give tenants a 10-Day Notice to Quit for performing illegal activities on the property. For example, if a tenant creates, distributes, or uses controlled substances. Or if police seize drugs from the tenant’s rental unit.

Other examples include using the property for gambling or prostitution. Landlords can also evict tenants for becoming a chronic nuisance or substantially damaging the property. Keeping records of dates and times and any police reports is important to strengthen your case.

Independent of sufficient cause, a landlord must wait for the tenant to commit some violation. Otherwise, the only remedy is to wait for their lease to expire.

It’s critical to note that the Landlord and Tenant Act require that the notice to quit be served personally to the tenant. That being said, you can post the notice on the principal building or the lease premises. However, you cannot deliver the notice to quit by mail. This is important information for landlords that may live out of town and don't have easy access to the property in question.

While typically expected, notice to quit isn’t always required. Sometimes tenants waive receipt for a notice to quit in the lease agreement. Make sure your lease agreements are up-to-date and signed is extremely important.

What Happens if the Tenant Fails to Leave?

It's likely that a tenant may fail to comply despite receipt of a notice to quit. Don't panic. In that case, the landlord must file a recovery of possession of real property action in the Magisterial District Court of the count where the property resides. Although you can file the action yourself, a real estate attorney has the experience to do so properly to avoid delays in eviction.

The court serves the tenant the action and sets a hearing date between seven and 15 days after the complaint’s filing.

On the hearing date, the landlord must appear in person and present their case to the judge. The tenant can also submit their claim.

Tenants can assert any number of defenses during the eviction process:

  • The landlord's allegations were false
  • The breach of the lease wasn’t severe
  • The complaint wasn’t reasonable
  • Improper serving of the notice
  • The landlord failed to remedy a condition of the property such as leaks, mold, or another dangerous issue
  • The eviction violates the Fair Housing Act - this could entail discriminating on the basis of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, pregnancy/childbirth, national origin, familial status, and disability

However, if the court rules in the landlord’s favor, tenants typically have ten days to appeal the judgment.

In addition to judgment for possession of the property, the judge can enter judgment for outstanding rent due, damage to the property, and lawsuit costs. The judge may also award the landlord attorneys’ fees if the lease agreement allows for their recovery.

Order for Possession

Fifteen days after the judge’s decision, the landlord can request that the court issue an order for possession. Within 48 hours from receipt, a constable or sheriff must serve the order to the tenant.

That order states that the tenant must vacate the property ten days after service (15 days for a non-residential tenant). If the tenant has not left after that timeframe, the constable may forcefully evict the tenant from the property. After the constable delivers possession of the property, the landlord has legal possession.

Even after the constable delivers possession of the property, additional issues may arise if the tenant has left their personal property at the residence. Further, a tenant could delay the eviction if they file an appeal of the court’s decision.

Self-Help Evictions

In some instances, landlords take measures into their own hands. For example, they may change the lock or shut off utilities. So here’s a word of advice if you’re a landlord considering this approach – don’t do it.

Most states frown on landlords forcing tenants from the property. You can only evict a tenant following a successful lawsuit. Even then, only a sheriff or constable can evict the tenant.

More importantly, the tenant can ask for an injunction prohibiting their removal during the court action. In addition, they can sue you for damages plus violations. Finally, the court can grant the tenant the right to stay on the property.

Need to Evict Someone?

Landlords are often unaware of the numerous legal requirements to evict a tenant. However, if a landlord doesn’t follow the correct procedures and provide the proper notices, it can lead to redoing steps in the process.

Missteps can form a basis for a tenant to file an appeal, further delaying the landlord’s recovery of possession. Even worse, they could lead to the tenant suing the landlord.

You can learn more about your rights by reading the Consumer Guide to Tenant and Landlord Rights. Published in June 2022, the guide covers legal requirements and best practices for renting a property.

Ultimately, a real estate attorney well-versed in landlord-tenant law can provide cost-effective assistance so that the process proceeds as smoothly as possible.

Our law firm has offices in Bucks County and Montgomery County, PA. The Best Lawyers in America recognized 16 of our attorneys for 2023. So, you can count on our firm to deliver experienced representation for any legal issue.

For more information about landlord-tenant law, contact Kevin Cornish at (610) 275-0700 or by email at

The information above is general: we recommend you consult an attorney regarding your circumstances. This information is not legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

Tenants and Bankruptcy

Few events are more frustrating to a landlord than tenants and bankruptcy. The uncertainty of whether the tenant will pay outstanding rent, compensate for utilities and late fees, and leave the property can be infuriating.

Originally acquired as a source of revenue generation, the property now serves as free housing for a delinquent tenant. Despite the seemingly helpless outcome of a bankruptcy filing, a landlord should know there are still options on regaining possession of his property, as well as receiving some payments, even when a tenant declares bankruptcy.

What Happens When a Tenant Declares Bankruptcy?

The bankruptcy begins when the tenant files a Petition in the Bankruptcy Court. Upon the filing of a Petition, any legal proceeding between the landlord and tenant immediately freezes. This abrupt halting of the landlord-tenant dispute, known as the automatic stay, remains in place until either the bankruptcy court permits for it to resume or the bankruptcy proceeding completes.

Even if the landlord has already won a lawsuit, obtained a judgment for possession to reclaim his property, and has coordinated with a local constable to evict a tenant, the automatic stay proibits any further action. The tenant gets to stay until one of the two conditions above occurs.

While the automatic stay remains in place, the landlord should consider his options in conjunction with a real estate attorney. The petition will specify what type, or Chapter, of bankruptcy the tenant has filed. A landlord's options depend on the type of bankruptcy the tenant has filed. In nearly all cases, a residential tenant will file in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Tenants and Bankruptcy: Chapter 7

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the tenant surrenders his assets to a trustee. The trustee determines which of the tenant's creditors gets paid from those tenant's assets. The trustee generally liquidates the assets and ascertains the compensation each creditor receives.

The trustee pays creditors with secured claims with proceeds from collateral and then pays unsecured claims. As obligations to the landlord under a lease are usually unsecured, landlords typically fail to receive any payment of outstanding rent, late fees, or utilities when a tenant enters Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The landlord may still get paid, however, if the tenant assumes the lease in bankruptcy. Under the Bankruptcy Code, the tenant must, within 60 days of filing his petition in Chapter 7, indicate whether he intends to either assume or reject the lease.

If the tenant agrees to the lease, he must maintain current rent payments and provide adequate assurance that he will pay all outstanding monies to the landlord within a reasonable amount of time. The tenant, in turn, can stay in the property while he pays the landlord under the terms of the lease.
Should the tenant fail to make such payments or provide the needed assurances, the landlord may file a motion with the Bankruptcy Court for relief from the automatic stay. A real estate lawyer can help you determine when, and if, to file a motion.

If the Bankruptcy Court grants the motion, the automatic stay terminates, and the landlord may return to state court to remove the tenant from the property.

If the tenant rejects the lease, he is no longer obligated to perform under its terms, such as paying rent. The landlord may try to obtain relief of the automatic stay from the Bankruptcy Court if the tenant refuses to vacate the property. After filing the petition, the Bankruptcy Code provides that the tenant rejects the lease if he does not assume it within 60 days.

Tenants and Bankruptcy: Chapter 13

With a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, the tenant-debtor attempts to restructure his debt and pay his creditors based on a payment plan. This payment plan, which the Bankruptcy Court must approve (or confirm), should include the tenant's proposal on paying the landlord any outstanding rent and costs.

Unsecured creditors, like a landlord, may even receive payment. Unlike a Chapter 7 case, the debtor maintains control over his assets instead of having the trustee liquidate them.

In Chapter 13, the tenant has until the time the Bankruptcy Court judge confirms the payment plan, rather than the 60-day deadline in a Chapter 7 proceeding, to either assume or reject the lease. If the tenant drags his feet and fails to meet his lease obligations while the plan confirmation remains pending, the landlord may ask the Court to confirm the plan sooner or seek relief from the automatic stay.

A tenant may propose to pay the landlord only a fraction of the agreed-upon rent spread over a series of several months while maintaining possession of the property. The landlord, however, may seek relief from the automatic stay to re-obtain the property and seek monetary damages in state court. In the event you would like to seek relief, it’s best to consult with a real estate attorney near you.

Tenants and Bankruptcy: Chapter 11

While individual tenants typically enter bankruptcy under Chapter 7 and 13, some may file under Chapter 11. Typically, business entities file under Chapter 11. In Chapter 11, the tenant-debtor will file a restructuring plan and follow the same deadlines to assume or reject the lease as in a Chapter 13 case.

Like Chapters 7 and 13, the tenant's failure to comply with a lease (such as timely paying rent) provides the landlord a basis to seek relief from the automatic stay. Commercial property tenants filing under Chapter 11 have different deadlines to file a plan of reorganization. They also have separate timelines for assuming or rejecting the lease.

What Can Landlords Collect During the Eviction Moratorium, and What Can They Obtain After it Expires?

Landlords are eager to collect unpaid rent and repossess their property, but with the CDC’s eviction moratorium in place, what can landlords collect, and when?

In May, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf entered an executive order preventing owners of residential properties from evicting their tenants for the tenants’ failure to timely pay their rent. Though renters were never permitted to permanently withhold rent payments, the executive order also permitted renters to delay making month-to-month payments while they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Wolf extended the provisions originally set forth in the executive order through July 10, and again through August 31.

However, landlords in Pennsylvania could not resume eviction efforts even after Governor Wolf’s executive order expired on August 31. On September 4, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) entered its own order under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act which placed a nationwide eviction moratorium on residential tenants effective when tenants submit to their landlords a document known as a “CDC Declaration.” The CDC’s order, which aims to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, will not expire until December 31, 2020.

With the prohibition on evictions lasting throughout the calendar year, landlords are undoubtedly anxious to reclaim possession of their rental properties. And though previously unable to collect owed money due to the Pennsylvania moratorium eviction, many landlords are eager to reclaim unpaid rent needed to pay the mortgages, taxes, and utilities on those rental properties.

So what is a landlord entitled to recover once the eviction moratorium expires?

Landlords can actually seek out monetary judgments at this time—the CDC’s order prohibits landlords from evicting tenants throughout December 31. Both Governor Wolf’s executive Order and the CDC’s order do not eliminate the tenant’s obligation to pay rent (though the Pennsylvania moratorium eviction permitted tenants to delay payments). That said, landlords can collect any monthly payments the tenant agreed to make in the lease, including all back rents and (if applicable) utilities. The CDC eviction moratorium merely prohibits landlords from repossessing their property.

What happens if the tenant cannot pay rent after the eviction moratorium expires?

If the tenant cannot pay his rent, but is still bound to several months’ of rent payments, a prudent landlord should inquire what payment the tenant can make. Landlords and tenants are always free to renegotiate the terms of the lease. Agreements to stagger payments of outstanding debts, such as a structured payment plan, can be viable alternatives to litigation. If litigation ensues, it's best to talk with a real estate lawyer for advice. And, in some cases, agreeing to release a tenant from part or all his lease obligations can be mutually beneficial: the tenant avoids increasing debt from unpaid rent, and the landlord can re-let his property to paying tenants.

What happens if a landlord and a tenant cannot agree on renegotiation of payment?

Under these circumstances, landlords should begin eviction proceedings and would be wise to see the assistance of a real estate attorney.

Not all situations, however, can be resolved. Again, many landlords have gone several months without receiving rent income, and may have no choice but to move on from tenants incapable of meeting their lease commitments. Under these circumstances, landlords should begin eviction proceedings and would be wise to see the assistance of a landlord-tenant attorney. Again, landlords should be mindful that they cannot evict tenants throughout December 31 if the tenant has submitted a CDC Declaration.

What is needed to start the process of tenant eviction?

The first step in an eviction proceeding is the issuance of a “Notice to Quit” letter. The Notice to Quit acts as a formal notification from the landlord to the tenant indicating the landlord’s intent to remove the tenant from the property.

How many days in advance must a Notice to Quit letter be given before eviction?

If the eviction is based on the tenant’s non-payment of rent, the Notice to Quit letter must give the tenant 10 days notice of the eviction. However, a tenant can waive his right to be served with a Notice to Quit, and such a waiver is often contained within the lease.

Can a landlord change the locks or otherwise engage in “self-help” on a tenant who hasn’t paid rent?

Landlords should also know that they cannot engage in self-help to carry out an eviction. This has been the law before the COVID-19 pandemic began, and will continue whether or not the eviction moratorium extends throughout 2021. In other words, in the absence of a court order, landlords cannot change the locks on their property to coerce delinquent tenants to leave, nor can they hire a locksmith to do so. Rather, if the tenant remains in possession of the property after the period detailed in the Notice to Quit, a landlord must obtain an eviction judgment from the relevant court.

How does a landlord get an eviction judgement in Pennsylvania?

Typically, to get that eviction judgment in Pennsylvania, the landlord must file a Complaint with the Magisterial District Court that lies in the same jurisdiction where the rental property is located. That Complaint should request that the Magisterial District Court Judge enter an order for possession in the landlord’s favor as well as a monetary judgment against the tenant for all back rent and court costs. In addition to possession and back rent, the landlord can also request judgment for any new rent that will become due at the time of the hearing, and if the lease permits it, unpaid utilities and attorneys’ fees.

The Court will then schedule a hearing at some later date, at which time the landlord (or the landlord’s attorney) will argue before a Magisterial District Court Judge as to why he is entitled to the relief demanded in the Complaint.

However, the Magisterial District Court will only hear a case when a landlord demands less than $12,000.00 in damages. In light of the protracted eviction moratorium—which will have lasted over eight months by the time the CDC’s order expires on December 31—it is not uncommon for a landlord to claim substantially more than $12,000.00 in back rent, attorneys’ fees, outstanding utility payments, and other potential damages. In this case, the landlord cannot file a Complaint with the Magisterial District Court and instead must look to the local Court of Common Pleas for relief. Cases heard before the Court of Common Pleas can take several months to litigate—much longer than those matters heard in the Magisterial District Court level. That said, a landlord owed a significant balance but more interested in obtaining possession may take advantage of the expedited litigation provided by the Magisterial District Court and agree to cap monetary damages at $12,000.00.

Can a tenant appeal an eviction?

Even if a judge grants an order for possession and other relief in the landlord’s favor, the landlord must wait 10 days before he can file the order for possession. During this 10 day period, the tenant can appeal the judge’s decision. If 10 days pass with no appeal, the landlord can then file and serve the order for possession, but a sheriff or constable will not initiate the eviction until another 10 days after service of the order for possession has passed. During this period, which can last several weeks, if the tenant can come up with enough money to satisfy the monetary judgment and the landlord’s costs in obtaining the order for possession before the constable or sheriff can initiate the eviction, then the tenant may continue to posses the property. (This benefit to the tenant, known as the right to “pay and stay,” is available only when the tenant faces eviction for non-payment of rent.)

Can a landlord evict a tenant for other reasons during the pandemic?

The above information outlines the landlord’s options due to a tenant’s non-payment of rent. The CDC’s order does not prevent landlords from commencing eviction proceedings for other reasons, such as when a tenant engages in criminal activity, destroys property, or otherwise violates provisions in the lease or building code. Under these circumstances, there may be different notice requirements that the landlord must adhere to prior to evicting, and the timeframes set forth in a Notice to Quit are different than in a non-payment of rent matter.

What, exactly, a landlord may recover depends on what he and the tenant agreed to in the lease. An aggrieved landlord should contact a landlord-tenant attorney to review the lease and get a better understanding of what he is entitled to after the eviction moratorium ends.