IS YOUR EVICTION CASE IN THE WRONG COURT?

IS YOUR EVICTION CASE IN THE WRONG COURT?
By Rob Xides

Most experienced landlords in Pennsylvania believe that they understand eviction law.  It requires notice to the tenant, followed by a Complaint and a hearing before the District Magistrate.  The tenant can be evicted if the landlord wins their hearing before the District Magistrate, unless the tenant appeals to a Board of Arbitration, which is always their right. If the landlord prevails in Arbitration, the tenant can appeal the case one more level, to Common Pleas Court.

Few landlords realize that there is an alternative legal system which takes the case straight to Common Pleas Court, with no hearing before a District Magistrate, and with very limited rights of appeal. This is the system of ejectment law. It is an alternative which is available in every case, and is mandatory in non-rental cases such as eviction of squatters or buyers under installment land contracts. These cases can only proceed through ejectment.

Ejectment cases begin with a Complaint in Ejectment, which must be filed in the Office of Court Records and served by the Sheriff.  The Complaint must be worded in several specific paragraphs of legalese. These Complaints are usually drafted by a lawyer. Once the Complaint is served, the tenant must file an answer which denies the allegations of the Complaint in Ejectment within 30 days.  If the tenant does not do so, he automatically loses the case.  If the tenant does deny the allegations, the landlord can still win without a hearing by filing a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or Motion for Summary Judgment.  These are highly technical motions which are almost always prepared by a lawyer.  If the motion is properly prepared, the landlord generally wins the case.

The choice of filing evictions through the ejectment system rather than through a District Magistrate is a difficult one which depends on the facts of each case.  An experienced landlord-tenant lawyer should be consulted in making this decision. In general, ejectment is the better course in any of the following situations:

•       When the tenant is likely to file one or more appeals.
•       When the tenant already has a lawyer before the eviction action begins.
•       When live testimony from the landlord or property manager is difficult to obtain (for example, when the landlord or manager cannot attend a hearing for distance or health reasons.)
•       Where the District Magistrate is politically slanted toward tenants. (Since District Magistrates are elected, this is much more likely to be true in districts with a large number of tenants.)

Our firm has decades of experience in eviction cases under both systems. We are happy to help make the difficult decision of choosing a court.

                                        Robert G. Xides, Jr.
                                        Weisel, Xides & Foerster, LLP
                                        429 Fourth Avenue, Suite 1201
                                        412-471-4128
                                        rgx@wxflaw.com

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