How do I sue my landlord?

You can sue a person or business for up to $12,000 by filing a Small Claims Complaint in Municipal Court.  If you wish to sue for more than $12,000, you must file a complaint with an attorney in the Court of Common Pleas.

What can sue my landlord for?

A tenant may sue a landlord for various claims.  Some common claims include:

  1. Lost or Damaged Items.  If your belongings were lost or damaged due to your landlord’s action or inaction, you may sue for the cost to replace items that were lost or damaged.
    • Example: A pipe bursts in the apartment above you and floods your bedroom.  Your mattress is ruined.  You may ask that the landlord pay for the cost to replace your mattress and dresser.
  2. Rent Abatement.  If you requested repairs in writing, and your landlord did not make the repairs in a timely manner, and your property was not habitable or only partially habitable for a period of time, you may sue for an abatement (reduction) of your rent for the period of time that the property was not habitable or only partially habitable.
    • Example: In January you ask your landlord by email to repair your heater.  In April your landlord completes the repair.  You may ask that the landlord abate your rent a certain amount (perhaps $400 each month) for the 3 months you lived in the property without heat ($1200 total).
  3. High Utility Bills.  If you got high utility bills after telling your landlord in writing about repair issues related to that utility, you may sue your landlord for the difference between a normal bill and the high bill(s).
    • Example: In May you text your landlord requesting they repair a leaky toilet.  In July, your landlord completes the repair.  Your water bill for June is $250.  Your water bill is usually $100.  You may ask that the landlord pay $150 for the high water bill for the period of time that the reported leak was not repaired.
  4. Emergency Repairs.  If you paid for emergency repairs after telling your landlord about the emergency repair issue, you may sue your landlord for the cost of labor and materials.  For more information about getting your landlord to make repairs or deducting repair costs from your rent, click here.
    • Example: The sewer line cracks and sewage starts flowing into your basement. Your landlord does not respond to phone calls, emails or text messages.  You call an emergency plumber and pay them $500 to repair the sewer line.  You may ask the landlord to pay you for the cost of the repair.
  5. Emergency Accommodations.  If you could not physically remain in your rental property due to an emergency that you did not cause, you may sue your landlord for the cost of meals and accommodations.
    • Example: There is an electrical fire in the basement due to old wiring, and you must leave the property.  You stay in a hotel for 5 days while the landlord makes repairs.  You can demand that the landlord pay you for the cost of the hotel room and meals you ate while you were displaced from the property.
  6. Lead Safe or Lead Free Certification.  If your landlord was required to provide you with a lead safe or lead free certificate and didn’t, you may sue for all rent paid before you received a Lead Safe or Lead Free Certificate as well as $2000 exemplary damages. For more information about the lead certification law, click here.
  7. Security deposit.  If your landlord kept your security deposit without good cause, you may sue for your security deposit.  For more information about getting your security deposit back, click here.

What do I do before filing a Small Claims Complaint?

  1. First and foremost, be careful! Before you sue a person or business, be sure that:
    1. You did not cause the damage related to your claim.
    2. You do not owe the person or business more money than the amount in your claim.
  2. Collect evidence. This includes documents, photos and witnesses that show that the person or business owes your money.
  3. Send a demand letter.  It is best to send one copy certified mail, one copy regular mail and keep one copy for yourself.

What do I include in a demand letter?

  • Your name and address.
  • The name and address of the person or business you want to sue.
  • State your claim.  If you are making more than one claim, be sure to:
    1. List each claim.
    2. List the amount you believe you are owed for each claim.
    3. Add up the amounts of all the claims.
  • Include a short statement of why you believe that you are entitled to money for each claim. Be sure to provide enough information so that the person or business knows why you are demanding money.

How do I file a Small Claims Complaint?

If the person or business does not comply with your demand, here is the process to file in court:

  1. Go to Municipal Court at 1339 Chestnut Street, 10th floor
  2. Ask to file a Small Claims Complaint. State how much money you are claiming. Include exhibits such as the lease, your evidence and your demand letter.
  3. Ask to file a Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (IFP). If the IFP is granted, you will not have to pay filing fees.  Download sample.
  4. Choose type of service. Pay a service fee or choose private service, which means a person who is over 21 and not a family member must serve the court papers on the landlord.