Disclaimer: I really do not want to make this an Us v.s. Them battle. Most tenants are hard-working, responsible people who pay their rent on time and live good lives raising their families in rental units. I love these people. They make our business model work. They are an asset to their communities. But they make for boring blog posts!
What makes for an engaging read are the belligerent deadbeats we just managed to get out of one of our units this week.
I’ve written about them before: http://thisgingerjustsnapped.weebly.com/blog/dealing-with-deadbeats
When Good Tenants Go Bad
I met these people for the first time in eviction court back in May. They had rented the unit in March under our previous property manager. She filed the eviction papers on them when they didn’t pay May and hadn’t returned her call. Steve & I took back the management of our own properties on May 20th, so we were the ones who attended the hearing.
They called the night before, saying they had money for us. I told them to meet us at the hearing, and we’d work it out in front of the magistrate.
They seemed like a very nice family. Their 4-year-old daughter played a game on my phone while we worked out payment arrangements. The father had lost a job, so there was a bump in income. I understand that. The check they gave me was written on somebody else’s account, possibly a parent. They would pay the balance owed over the next three weeks and be caught up. By then the paychecks should be rolling in from the new job he just landed, and they’d be fine. We could even give him some work on the side for our company painting apartments.
We worked the payment arrangements out in front of the judge, who continued the eviction hearing to June 21st. If they paid as agreed, the eviction would be cancelled.
The tenant did two jobs for us, which we paid for in cash, one for $100, the other for $200. So imagine our surprise when June 7th rolled around and he did not have his first installment for the payment arrangements! I guess that new job didn’t work out so well for him. Or maybe it never existed in the first place.
We decided we’d let him finish the current painting job we had him on, but we wouldn’t pay him in cash. Instead we’d credit the balance. To say the quality of his work suffered after this decision would be an understatement! So we fired him and got somebody else to finish the job.
He kept saying he’d have the money by the 21st. I stopped believing him at this point. The 21st came with no money, so we went to the continued hearing. They didn’t show up. We got our eviction.
Going through the Eviction Process in Pennsylvania
In PA, tenants have 10 days after an eviction to pay the judgement or appeal it. They said they’d have all the money by July 1st. Then on July 1st the tenant told my husband he had the money but wasn’t going to pay us because he “didn’t like the way they were being treated.”
That’s when Ginger snapped. I told them in so many words to get their meth lab and crack pipes out of my house by the end of the holiday weekend. A mistake, I admit. One should never take deadbeats personally. It’s a complete waste of energy, and probably aggravated the situation.
On July 5th they were still there so I filed the papers for the Constable to come get them out in another 10 days. That’s when the online bullshit started. The woman posted on Craigs List, the Luzerne County Homes and Apartments and the Pittston Crime Watch Facebook pages “Stay away from 109 Lagrange St.” calling us out as slumlords and posting pictures of garbage (theirs I assume) strewn about the property. All of the posts were reported and taken down by the moderators, and she got banned from Homes & Apartments.
They called in the city Code Inspector, who found several code violations on the property – things like garbage (theirs) and high weeds on the side of the house (again, they are responsible for lawn care in the lease.) Unfortunately, they found nothing that could get the building shut down. I say unfortunately, because if they had, they would have been escorted out the door and our problems with them would have been over, because we had been granted legal possession.
The date for the lockout was July 15th. My husband met the Constable there at 5pm. And they were ambushed.
When The Tenant Stops the Eviction, and What To Do About It
There’s a Robin Hood legal aid lawyer at Northeast Legal Services helping fine upstanding tenants like these screw their landlords. I want to interview him for this blog, actually, to try to get some insights into his thinking. I mean, is he just a Communist or something?
They filed a Writ of Certiorari with the Luzerne County Prothonotary’s office, citing “such gross irregularity of procedure as to make the judgement void.” Sounds to me like they called the Magistrate a big, fat liar.
The Prothonotary’s office told my husband they had seen only 4 or 5 of these in the last 10 years. In the last few months, they’ve had 9 come through their office.
That means if you’re a landlord in Luzerne County, you’re probably going to run into this problem at some point.
It’s just a stall for time. And it isn’t free for the tenant. Even if they cry poverty they still have to pay one third of the rent to the court, which sits in an escrow account, and within twenty days they have to pay the rest of the rent. On top of that, the tenant has to follow certain court procedures. If they fail to follow any of them, the Writ of Certiorari can be struck.
The problem is, there isn’t a lot of help available to landlords to guide us through the process when a tenant tries to screw us with the legal system. My belligerent tenant had access to legal aid and all the forms he needed to properly file in court. We as landlords had to do quite a bit of detective work.
There’s a landlord’s rights attorney in the Lehigh Valley that has a wonderful website that explains PA law quite well: http://www.zawarskilaw.com/bethlehem-landlord-attorney/
Unfortunately he only takes cases in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area, or else I would hire him in a heartbeat! Sure wish there was someone like that up here… maybe I’ll go to law school! I feel like I could, after I spent Monday afternoon writing my own Praecipe to Strike Writ of Certiorari and Praecipe to Terminate Supersedeas.
We have the sympathetic staff at the Prothonotary’s office to thank for pointing us in the right direction as far as the proper wording we needed to put in our legal documents. Even so, I had to consult with an attorney. I called Brian Stahl at HKQ, who we have used for other matters. I have quite a bit of money left on a retainer so I used some of that credit for a quick phone consultation.
Here’s the problem I see – Landlords can file all the relevant forms ourselves without a lawyer, but the information isn’t readily available to us. In fact, it seems as if it’s hidden deliberately!
So here’s my public service to fellow landlords. If you have a tenant file a Writ of Certiorari there are certain deadlines you need to pay attention to:
- They have 5 days from filing the Writ to serve both you, the landlord and the Magistrate’s office. And they must file that proof of service with the Prothonotary’s office. If they did not, you may move to strike. That’s where our tenants screwed up. They didn’t serve us.
- Once you’re served, you can file a complaint with the Court of Common Pleas. The tenants have 20 days to answer your complaint. If they do not, you may move to strike.
- The tenants have to pay rent to the court. Even if they cry poverty, like our tenants did, they still have to pay one third of the rent when they file, and the other two thirds within 20 days. If they fail to pay, you may move to strike.
- The tenants then have to pay the full rent to the court every thirty days while the case is in appeal. So yes, an appeal can drag on for months, but they still have to pay their rent. If they fail to do this at any time, game over.
You have to file another form with the court to get your money, a Motion for Release of Rent Paid Into Court. It should include a reference to Rule 1008:
Rule 1008 provides, in pertinent part, that “(u)pon application by the landlord, the court shall release appropriate sums from the escrow account on a continuing basis while the appeal is pending to compensate the landlord for the tenant’s actual possession and use of the premises during the pendency of the appeal.”
Here is a link to a site where you can download and view any form filed with the Luzerne County Prothonotary’s office since 2005, including the ones we filed in this case: http://www.luzernecounty.org/county/row_offices/prothonotary
Near the middle of the page you’ll see the link:
CLICK HERE to view all documents filed in the Prothonotary's Office since 2005
Once you click on that, you can search for our case. Type in the Plaintiff’s name, in our case it is C&C Abstract Services, Manager for GPGH. That should pull up all the forms we filed so you can copy the legal verbiage for your own case. I think the county charges 40-cents per page for the privilege, but that’s a lot cheaper than hiring a lawyer to do it for you.