SlepnerLaw wins in Landlord-Tenant Court!

July 7, 2014

Recently I had the pleasure of representing landlord clients in a standard eviction in the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Back in November, my clients had a default judgment entered in their favor because neither the tenant nor his attorney showed up for court. We promptly went about executing on the judgment.

In mid-May – six (6!) months after the default judgment – I received a notice of a Petition to Open the judgment. Petitions to open are granted only in rare circumstances, and in any event, almost never when they are filed more than 30 days after the entry of judgment.

This time, my clients and I as well as defense counsel appeared before the court. (The defendant did not, and has yet to, appear before the court in this matter.)  The court had serious concerns about why neither the defendant nor counsel appeared at the last hearing and why they had waited six months to petition to open the judgment.

After some argument from defense counsel that a clerical error by the court administration sent a subpoena to the wrong counsel, the court allowed the judgment to be opened. It was time to argue the case on its merits.

The defendant tenant had been living in my clients’ house without paying rent since 2011. This was despite a verbal lease agreement with my clients that he was to pay $800 monthly rent. We were only seeking rent from January 2013 on. Defendant’s counsel argued that my clients were not entitled to rent from January 2013 through at least mid-August 2013 as my clients did not have a rental suitability license. On this point, at least, the defense was correct. (A lesson to all landlords: Get your licenses in order before you sign that lease!) However, my clients testified that the defendant did not leave the house until the sheriff came to lock him out in mid-February of this year.

The court awarded my clients back rent from mid-August 2013 through February 2014 as well as attorney fees and court costs.

Lessons learned: Landlords, consult an attorney prior to renting out your property in order to make sure your licenses and leases are airtight. Tenants, just because a lease is unwritten doesn’t mean you are exempt from rent.

Another big win for SlepnerLaw!!