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P-G Editorializes Regarding Court Costs in Landlord Tenant cases

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | September 24, 2018

No. 1,562

The Post-Gazette, which has been running articles about landlord-tenant cases at the Magisterial level, states that the court costs, which are about $150, are a burden on the poor, especially those about to be homeless.  To clarify, the landlord pays the costs when filing the case. When a judgment is entered in favor of the landlord, these costs are also awarded as part of the judgment, to be repaid by the tenant to the landlord — not the court.   But the editorial fails to mention that the landlord who evicts a tenant rarely even attempts to collect money damages.  Most landlords simply absorb the court fee as a cost of doing business.

The suggestion by the P-G that the tenant should be permitted to pay costs in installments or by working it off apparently assumes that this payment is being made to the court. The situation posed in the editorial, that the tenant can pay the delinquent rent but not the costs, is in my experience, a rarity.

The editorial’s allegation that the average length of such a hearing is three minutes could only be possible by counting cases where one party does not appear or concedes at the start.  In my experience, a contested case takes approximately 30 minutes.  If a strong defense is presented, it can take an hour or more. Magistrates will listen to a defendant who has something meaningful to say.  But bear in mind, they have heard it all before and can pick up the gist of your case rather quickly. If you come prepared with copies of documents and pictures — and you get to the point — the Magistrate will take the time to hear your defense.

The article also fails to note that the tenant can stay in the property and postpone the payment of those costs by appealing to Common Pleas Court. This appeal can be made without a payment of further costs by obtaining a court order certifying that he tenant is qualified under the applicable rules.  These orders are rarely refused when requested at motions court, supported by the affidavit of the defendant. The tenant must pay one-third of one month’s rent into escrow at time of filing and the 2/3 balance of one month’s rent in 20 days.  Thereafter, one month’s rent is paid into escrow on the day of the month when the appeal was filed.  If the tenant wins the case on appeal, and some do, the escrow funds can be claimed by the tenant.  If the tenant loses the case, they are offset against amounts awarded to the landlord. There can be a further appeal to a judge with a continuation of the escrow.  Of course, the tenant must successfully present  a defense to win the case.  Most often this involves the uninhabitability of the premises and the refusal of the landlord to make the needed repairs.

The editorial calls for change in the Landlord and Tenant Act to relieve the burden of court costs, but is apparently leaving the nature of this change to the experts. Perhaps the solution could be the waiver by the landlord of the reimbursement of the initial filing fee if the account is brought fully current within ten days or the premises are voluntarily surrendered in good condition without need of further legal action.

To read the editorial, click the link below:

Court Cost Editorial



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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