What to do if you are being sued in a Landlord-Tenant case
Currently, we are accepting new cases in person. Appointments are preferred.
For questions about submitting a new case or to make an appointment call 215-686-7988
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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
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.
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.