Landlord and Tenant Basics

History of the Landlord / Tenant System

  • Roots in Roman Empire; England and most of Europe
  • Feudalism – Fiefs, Lords, Knights
  • Influence of English common law on American land law
  • “Lord” and “King” replaced with “the People” or the “United States”
  • Current law in PA – Landlord Tenant Act of 1951 – developed overtime by case law and statute

Residential Lease Agreements

  • Verbal leases are enforceable – automatically are month to month
  • In order to enforce, must be shown Landlord / Tenant relationship existed
  • Bargained for exchange must be shown – not necessarily money

Breach of Lease

  • Commonly litigated
  • Breach by Tenant
    • Landlord gives notice of breach
    • If not corrected, Landlord gives notice to quit
    • If Tenant holds over, Landlord files an action with the Court
  • Breach by Landlord – Tenants rarely handle correctly:
    • Tenant gives notice of violation to Landlord
    • Landlord must be given notice and reasonable time to correct
    • If breach involves something that needs to be fixed, and amount to fix is less than rent, fix it and withhold from rent (must be Landlord’s obligation to repair)
  • If breach involves something more costly than rent, place rent in escrow, on time each month, until there is enough money to pay for repair
  • If breach involves violation of implied warrant of habitability, after notice, place rent in escrow and file action in Court
  • Landlord can never use security deposit during term of lease toward rent or other financial obligations

Implied Warrant of Habitability

  • Landlord has obligation to maintain habitable (safe, sanitary and fit) conditions
  • Tenant has obligation to pay rent
  • These two obligations depend on each other
  • If Landlord violates the warrant, Tenant might not have to pay rent (notice and opportunity to correct)
  • Small leak in ceiling staining the ceiling vs. no hot water, broken lock on front door, no heat

Notice to Quit

  • If lease term 1 year or less, 15 day written notice (from service)
  • If lease term more than 1 year, 30 day written notice (from service)
  • If case of unpaid rent, 10 day written notice (from service)
  • Notice can be waived in the lease
  • Mobile home parks have separate more stringent notice requirements

Pay and Stay

  • If non-payment of rent is the only alleged violation of the lease, the Court MUST grant pay and stay – means if the money judgment is satisfied by the time of eviction, the Tenant can remain in the property and the eviction is stayed

Filing Suit

  • Magisterial District Justice or Court of Common Pleas
  • Magisterial District Justice serves other party and schedules hearing
  • File a Landlord / Tenant Complaint or a Civil Complaint?
  • If Tenant is still in possession of the property, Landlord / Tenant Complaint should be filed
  • If Tenant is not in possession of the property, the action MUST be filed as a Civil Complaint
  • This is because of the service rules – a Landlord / Tenant Complaint can be served by posting the property and mailing the Complaint, and if the Tenant is not in possession of the property, there might not be proper service
  • Eviction vs. Ejectment – If Landlord / Plaintiff can establish a Landlord / Tenant relationship, then file a Landlord / Tenant Complaint. If not, then file an ejectment action in the Court of Common Pleas


  • Tenant has 10 days to appeal order for possession
  • Tenant has 30 days to appeal money judgment
  • If no appeal, Landlord can request order for possession
  • Order for possession is good for 120 days
  • During 120 days, Landlord asks Court for eviction
  • Constable posts property and schedules a date certain for eviction (must be at least 10 days from posting)
  • If Tenant was granted pay and stay right and pays all of the money owed, eviction is stayed
  • Appeals from Magisterial District Justice are to Court of Common Pleas (Tenant must pay rent into the Court if Tenant appeals judgment

For detailed questions and specific scenarios, please reach out to an attorney. We recommend:

Andrew S. George, Esquire
Kozloff Stoudt Attorneys
2640 Westview Drive
Wyomissing, PA  19610
Telephone: (610) 670-2552

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