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Responding to a Landlord-Tenant Case

What to do if you are being sued in a Landlord-Tenant case


NOTICE

Currently, we are accepting new cases in person. Appointments are preferred.

  • For questions about submitting a new case call 215-686-7988
  • For questions about relisting a case or submitting a petition call 215-686-7980
  • For questions about submitting a writ of possession or alias writ of possession call 215-686-7989

If you got papers from the court it means someone might be trying to sue you. If you have questions about this, please call Court Administration at 215-686-2910. Learn more about how to respond below.


Understanding Why You Are Being Sued

Read the Landlord-Tenant Complaint. The Landlord-Tenant Complaint document (example below) tells you about the case and what the other side is suing you for. It will also say what the other side wants (money and/or eviction). Because you are being sued you are the defendant. The other side is called the plaintiff.

Write down the time, date, and place of your hearing. This information will be on the bottom of the third page of the complaint form. Your hearing will be in a room on the sixth (6th) floor, 1339 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. You must be on time for your hearing. If you are late, you may lose. If you don’t show up, you will automatically lose

If you need more time before your hearing you can ask to have the hearing date rescheduled. This is called a continuance. You have to ask the court for a continuance in writing and must tell the other side. Learn more about how to ask for your hearing date to be rescheduled.

Prepare for your hearing. Collect and bring all documents to support your case, such as rent books, receipts, canceled checks, bills, your lease, letters, emails or text messages, repair requests, notices, photos, and witnesses. Make sure you have copies for the court and the other side.


For more information on the eviction process and your rights as a tenant please visit www.phillytenant.org.

Responding to the Case

If you agree that you owe the other side the money they are asking for, contact them (or their lawyer) before the hearing date. You can work with them to figure out how to pay.

If you disagree that you owe the other side money, you have a few options:

  • Negotiate a lower amount or use a mediator to find a compromise. Both sides can negotiate to come to an agreement before going to court. You can also use a mediator who can help you discuss and negotiate. If you want to work with a mediator before going to court, you can contact Good Shepherd. On the day of your hearing, the court may be able to provide you with a mediator with the Dispute Resolution Unit.

  • Go to court and challenge the case. If you want to defend yourself, you can ask court staff to move your case so that a judge will make the decision. You should be ready to explain your side of the story to the judge. It is the job of the company or the person suing you to prove their case with evidence. If you have proof that you should not have to pay the other side make sure to bring it to court. Proof can include contracts, bills, letters, canceled checks, and receipts.

  • Submit your own lawsuit. You can respond to a case by starting one of your own. If your new lawsuit involves the same people as the one against you, your lawsuit will be called a counterclaim. A counterclaim is your way of saying “I don’t owe you money. You owe me money.” You should be able to prove that you are right or at least that the other side is not right.

  • Say that you were not told about the case in the right way. The other side must tell you that you are being sued in a specific way. This is called Service of Process. There are rules about how the other side must tell you. Generally, someone has to give you a copy of the lawsuit in person. If you are not home, they can give it to an adult who is in charge of your home. They should not leave it in your mailbox, on your porch, or with a neighbor. If you were not told about the lawsuit in the right way, you can tell the court. Tell the court in person during your first hearing or write a letter to the court. To learn more about how to tell someone about a lawsuit, watch this short video.

  • Ignore the lawsuit. If you do nothing, the other side will automatically win the case. This is called a Default Judgment. The court will send you a letter saying the date the decision was made, and the amount you have to pay. This will also create a lien on any property you own, including your home. This means that the other side may be able to claim your property, including by taking money from your bank account. A judge might also ask the other side to prove you owe them money at the hearing. If the judge decides that the other side did not have enough evidence, they might schedule a new hearing. 

Getting a Lawyer

You have the right to get a lawyer

You do not need a lawyer to come to Municipal Court. Even though you do not need a lawyer, you can get one if you want. If you are a tenant, you may be able to get a lawyer for free. If you have a lawyer, they should be with you when you come to court. If you need to reschedule your hearing so you can find a lawyer you must ask the court to move the date in writing. Learn more about how to ask the court to move your hearing date.


Free Lawyers for Tenants

You might qualify for a free lawyer through the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Program. To learn more, call the Philly Tenant Hotline 267-443-2500. The Hotline can provide information and help connect eligible tenants with free legal representation through Community Legal Services, SeniorLAW Center, Legal Clinic for the Disabled, and other organizations. Call as soon as possible so that you are able to meet with your lawyer and prepare your case before the hearing. If you are not eligible for free legal services, you can contact the Philadelphia Bar Association Lawyer Referral and Information Service at 215-238-6333 to get help hiring a lawyer.

For more information and resources, please visit www.phillytenant.org. You can also attend a daily tenants rights class offered by the Tenant Union Representative Network. You can register online or by calling the Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500.


Reminders for Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) Tenant

Contact your property manager at least 1 week before your hearing. Find out if your case can be resolved outside of court. If you recently experienced a change in income, ask if you qualify for a rent reduction before coming to court.

If you have any questions, call Court Administration at 215-686-2910.


Forms

Resources


Get free legal advice or a lawyer

If you are a tenant with a low income you can get free legal advice or a lawyer from these organizations.

  • Community Legal Services
    • Call 215-981-3700
    • Free for low-income Philadelphians
    • Listen to the recording for options when you call.
    • Choose “Debt Collection or Consumer Scams” and leave a message. Tell them about your situation.
    • You will get a call back in 1-2 days.
  • SeniorLAW Center
    • Call 215-988-1242
      • Monday – Thursday, 10am - 12 pm
      • Free if you are 60 or older
      • Call and press option 2. Leave a message telling them about your situation. They will call you back.
  • Legal Clinic for the Disabled
    • Call 215-587-3158
    • Free if you have a disability, chronic illness, or are deaf or hard of hearing and have an income of 200% of the federal poverty level or less.
    • Call and press option 2
    • Leave a message telling them about your situation and they will call you back

Pay a Lawyer for Help


Call 215-686-7000 for general court information.

Contact

Business Hours

  • Monday-Friday: 9am - 5pm
  • Saturday: Closed
  • Sunday: Closed

Landlord-Tenant Information