HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Every year, thousands of landlord-tenant disputes make their way through Pennsylvania courts.
According to the 2018 Caseload Statistics Report of the Unified Judicial System, courts of common pleas judges heard 3,366 landlord-tenant disputes, and more than 4,200 landlord disputes were heard by magisterial district judges.
Many of those cases deal with evictions.
Arlene Burno is familiar with the process. Burno says the last tenant who rented her property in Harrisburg stopped paying rent, and it was a battle to get the tenant evicted.
“Overall, it was actually four months before I was able to get back into my property,” Burno said. “First, I had to bring a constable in and give her a 15-day notice. From there I went to the district justice and there were another 10 days allotted. And then after that 10 days, the tenant has an opportunity to go to the court of common pleas and actually appeal, which starts the case all over again.”
Rep. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland) last year introduced House Bill 71, a proposal to speed up the eviction process to 30 days. The bill has the support of the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association, which has about 8,000 members.
“It is overdue and it is needed. What this bill would do is it would shorten that time period, the time from when you get the judgment till you get the order of possession, those times would run concurrently, not consecutively. That would shorten the time, minimize the cost, and it does not eliminate the tenant’s right to appeal,” said Rita Dallago, the association’s executive director.
Dallago says long, drawn-out evictions can add up financially for landlords who are losing rent and paying court fees.
“Most rental housing providers are working on a very narrow margin,” Dallago said. “All of these fees and costs go into what the rental housing provider has to face and ultimately, it gets factored down and passed on to future tenants.”
On top of the court fees and unpaid rent, Burno says her property in Harrisburg was damaged.
“I was out between $6,000 and $10,000 because when I got in my place, it was totally roach and rat-infested and I had to gut it all out and start new. There was also damage to doors and walls and I had to pull up all the carpets,” she said.
Burno supports House Bill 71 and would like to see lawmakers address tenants who take advantage of the current eviction process.
“What I am learning is these tenants are pros at what they do and they know the system inside and out,” she said. “They have been through this process many times and they know how to milk the system. To me, if you are squatting without paying, that is trespassing. I truly believe it should not be civil, it should be a criminal offense.”
House Bill 71 is in the Urban Affairs Committee. Those who oppose the bill are concerned it could increase homelessness.