Can You Sue a Tenant for Not Paying Rent?

When a tenant fails to pay rent, landlords in Pennsylvania have legal options to address the issue and seek remedies.

When a tenant fails to pay rent, landlords in Pennsylvania have legal options to address the issue and seek remedies. In this short guide, we will review the steps landlords can take to enforce their rights and recover unpaid rent through legal means.

Late Rent Notices

Before pursuing legal action, landlords should issue a written notice to the tenant indicating that rent is overdue and specifying the amount owed. Pennsylvania law typically requires a 10-day notice for payment.

Filing an Eviction Lawsuit

If the tenant does not respond to the late rent notice or fails to pay the outstanding rent within the notice period, landlords can file an eviction lawsuit, often referred to as a complaint in forcible entry and detainer, in the local court. The lawsuit seeks both possession of the property and unpaid rent.

Court Proceedings

In court, landlords must present their case, including evidence of the unpaid rent and any late rent notices served. Tenants will have the opportunity to defend themselves and present their side of the story. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, a judgment will be issued, granting the landlord possession of the property and, in some cases, an order for the tenant to pay the unpaid rent.

Wage Garnishment

Landlords can seek a wage garnishment order to collect unpaid rent from a tenant's wages if the tenant has a consistent source of income. This allows a portion of the tenant's wages to be withheld and paid directly to the landlord until the debt is satisfied.

Levy on Tenant's Property

In some cases, landlords may obtain a writ of execution, which allows them to levy the tenant's property to satisfy the unpaid rent. This typically involves the sale of the tenant's personal property to cover the debt.


If the tenant vacates the property with unpaid rent, landlords can pursue the unpaid rent through a collections agency or by selling the debt to a collections company. This may impact the tenant's credit.

Small Claims Court

For smaller amounts, landlords can pursue unpaid rent in small claims court, which offers a simplified and expedited process for resolving disputes involving relatively modest amounts of money.

Getting Legal Representation

Landlords in Pennsylvania should be prepared to consult with an attorney experienced in tenant and landlord legal rights who can ensure compliance with state and local laws, maximizing their chances of recovering unpaid rent.

Factors to Consider Before Suing a Tenant for Non-Payment of Rent

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Before pursuing legal action, landlords should conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the unpaid rent amount justifies the expenses and potential risks associated with a lawsuit. Consider court costs, attorney fees, and the likelihood of successfully recovering the debt.

Documentation of Lease Violations

Landlords should ensure they have thorough documentation of lease violations related to unpaid rent. This includes records of late rent notices, communication with the tenant, and evidence of unpaid rent. Strong documentation strengthens the landlord's case in court.

Tenant's Financial Situation

Assess the tenant's financial situation to gauge their ability to pay the outstanding rent. If the tenant is facing financial hardship, pursuing legal action may be less likely to result in successful rent recovery. Consider whether a payment plan or negotiation may be a more practical solution.

Make an Attempt to Resolve Unpaid Rent Issues Amicably

Open Communication with the Tenant

Landlords in Pennsylvania should initiate open and respectful communication with the tenant as soon as rent payment issues arise. Understanding the reasons behind the issue can help determine whether a resolution is possible without legal action. Tenants may have faced unexpected financial difficulties or personal challenges.

Negotiating a Repayment Plan

Landlords can consider negotiating a repayment plan with the tenant, allowing them to pay the outstanding rent in manageable installments over an agreed-upon period. This approach may help tenants catch up on overdue payments while maintaining their tenancy.

Offering Incentives for Timely Payment

To encourage timely rent payment, landlords can offer incentives such as reduced late fees or a small discount for prompt payment. These incentives can motivate tenants to prioritize their rent obligations.

Landlord Protection: Renters Insurance in Pennsylvania

Landlords can require tenants in Pennsylvania to maintain renters insurance as a condition of the lease agreement. This insurance typically includes coverage for liability and personal property. In case of unpaid rent or damage to the property, the landlord can file a claim against the tenant's renters insurance policy to recover the unpaid rent amount or repair costs. Renters insurance also provides financial protection to tenants, covering their personal belongings in case of theft, fire, or other covered perils.

Don't let unpaid rent issues or lease disputes disrupt your peace of mind. Our skilled landlord-tenant dispute attorneys can protect your rights, property, and tenant-landlord relationships. Call Very Law today at 412-430-0131 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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