This article is intended for Pennsylvania landlord-tenant appeals from the Magistrate Court to the Court of Common Pleas. Particularly, when a tenant submits a false affidavit to the court alleging that rent was paid in the month their appeal was filed. This article reviews the applicability of Rule 1008 and potential remedies.
I see it happen all the time — a landlord successfully obtains a judgment to evict a tenant based on the tenant’s failure to pay rent, the tenant files an appeal, and lies to the court saying they paid rent for the month the appeal was filed. What is the landlord suppose to do?
Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Appeal Overview
When a tenant appeals an eviction judgment within ten (10) days of the Magistrate Hearing to the Court of Common Pleas, the Pennsylvania Rules of Procedure require the tenant to pay the lesser of the rent actually in arrears or 3 months’ rent. Pa. M.D.J.R.C.P. 1008. However, there is a loophole thanks to Rule 1008(C). Tenants who don’t have the ability to pay this amount can file a Petition asking the court to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) by claiming that their income is under a certain level.
By filing in forma pauperis (IFP), the tenant is required to submit an affidavit to the court verifying whether or not rent was paid in the month in which the appeal was filed. If the tenant states that rent was not paid in the month the appeal was filed, the tenant has to pay 1/3 of the monthly rent to the court when the appeal is filed and the remaining 2/3 balance within twenty (20) days. The tenant then must pay monthly rent to the court each successive thirty (30) days following the appeal.
However, sometimes a tenant claims in the tenant supersedeas affidavit that rent was paid in the month the appeal was filed, even though it was not, and the court doesn’t even require the tenant to present proof of payment. What is a landlord supposed to do when the tenant commits this blatant perjury?
File a Motion to Terminate the Tenant’s Supersedeas
When a tenant lies on the Tenant Supersedeas Affidavit by claiming that rent was paid when it was not, the landlord would be required to file a Motion with the Court asking the court to terminate the tenant’s supersedeas. The supersedeas is a legal term which means that the proceedings in the lower court are suspended and prohibits the landlord from seeking possession while the appeal is pending. If a Motion isn’t filed, you’ll have to wait until thirty (30) days after the appeal is filed to see of the tenant fails to make ongoing rent payments to the court’s escrow and hope that you can terminate the supersedeas at that time.
Sanctions and Penalties
Most landlords are interested in whether there are any additional penalties and whether they can collect attorney’s fees based on the tenant’s false statement to the court. As far as obtaining attorney’s fees, hopefully, your Lease Agreement permits the recovery of attorney’s fees in the event of a breach of the Lease Agreement. Under that scenario, your attorney can request an award of counsel fees during the arbitration hearing. Alternatively, proper procedure must be followed to in order to file a Motion for Sanctions against the tenant by demanding that the tenant amend the false filing with the court prior to seeking sanctions. To pursue criminal penalties for perjury, I would recommend contacting the District Attorney or consider filing a Private Criminal Complaint.
If you are a landlord with a tenant that is giving you the business by playing games with the legal system, give me a call. I represent landlords in the Lehigh Valley area including Bethlehem, Allentown, Easton, Stroudsburg, Doylestown, Reading, Lehigh County, Northampton County, Berks County, Bucks County Monroe County, and Montgomery County. I can assist you in all landlord-tenant matters by helping you obtain possession, getting a judgment against the tenant, and hopefully collecting the judgment.
Call me at (610) 417-6345 for a consultation.