Occupants' Appeal against Judgement for Possession

21 Replies

Today, I was just informed by the occupants, (notice I didn't say my tenants), they asked for an appeal from the judgment of possession to obtain more time to vacate. That specifically was their reason for filing their appeal. I purchased the property during a county tax sale with existing occupants living in the residence. I've been researching Pennsylvania tenant law and nothing has come to my attention that would grant an appeal for "more time" to vacate. Further, I have reason to believe the utilities are on illegally which presents a safety concern and liability considering I cannot obtain property insurance due to not being able to enter the property with an insurance agent. Am I missing anything here? Any experience or guidance anyone can offer would be great!!!! Thank-you!!!

Yes you are missing something.

Why do you believe you can not gain access to the property. As the legal owner they have become your "tenants", so to speak, which gives you the right to enter with notice. 

Give notice and enter asap. Preferably when they are not home but if you are worried you can request police presence.

Greg, thanks for your response!
I don't have a key to the property. These folks are technically squatting; and have been squatting for 4 years with their family members.... I'm sure they won't give me a key; and I can't change the locks.

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Give them notice that you plan to enter, but before that request a copy of the key (maybe even give them $5 to get it done, or offer to repay them for the charge).  If they refuse to give you a key, go buy a lock (or set of locks) that matches the one you want changed (ie buy Kwikset if that's what is already installed) then let them know you will still enter the apartment at the stated time and provide them with a key to the new lock(s) and let them know the locks will be changed while you are there.  Bring a locksmith with you to let you in, and have him change the locks while you are there or do it yourself.  

You can even put a spin on it- perhaps the locks weren't changed when they moved in, now any previous "tenant" or anyone else who ever had a key will no longer have easy access to the apartment...

Disclaimer- I am not a lawyer, and certainly no expert on the laws in your area, just trying to think outside the box.

Thanks Kelly!!!! All the law I have read says not to change the locks on the tenants. But, changing the locks and giving them a key shouldn't be.. That surely is out-of-the box thinking.... Great idea... I will consider it... Thank-you!!!!

They have absolutely no right to exclude you from your property. Once you've given them notice you will enter, do it by whatever means necessary...even if that means kicking in the door. Of course, it's best to do as little damage as possible...and a locksmith should get you right in. If there is no deadbolt it's easy to open a locked knob with just a credit card.

I agree.  Give them 24 hours notice to enter the property with a locksmith, and that you will give them a copy of the new key.

Just for your info - if you have studied the relevant laws, and you can't find one that is specific to your situation - that's okay.  

For instance, if the law only says that you have the right to give 24 hours notice to enter your property - and there's nothing specific about then changing the locks - then it's okay to change the locks.

Laws don't need to address every single possible situation.  It's okay to work with the laws that are there.

So, if the law says you have the right to enter your property with 24 hours notice to do maintenance - then that's all you need.

If the maintenance is so you have a key to your property, which you have a right to have, then it's allowed.

You don't need a law to specifically say what's allowed and not allowed, for every single possible scenario.

So, give them notice you will be entering with a locksmith to change the locks.

Also, I'd give them 30 days notice to vacate, while you're at it, along with the notice to evict based on nonpayment of rent.  And with the 30 day notice to vacate, I'd give them 30 days notice that the rent will be increased by some crazy amount, if they are still there in 30 days.

All legal.  Use the law in your favor.  

Wow, I think the advice you have gotten is crazy and could wind you up in jail. I would note that all of it comes from people in other states where the laws may dramatically differ. Virtually none of the advice would be legal in MD. 

In many, if not most states, Squatters have rights. Most states have a legal process for removing squatters. Follow the legal process, unless you are willing to risk the consequences of not doing so. Maryland is a liberal state and I would not risk that here. PA may not be as liberal and you may get away with more brute force type measures. Cash for keys is something I will do. 

Perhaps @David Krulac or @Steve Babiak will comment.

Hi @Bobby C. ,

I agree with @Ned Carey on this one. I would not be entering the property and changing locks and invading that space at all personally. Reason being any thing that you do like that will look bad in front of a judge.

I am no lawyer and of course would recommend getting one to discuss laws in your area etc blah blah...

I would start the eviction process step by step and not miss or skip a step. I would not go to the property, I would not get involved in any conversations with them that are not written down.

Just my thoughts and good luck!

All of the above advice sounds quite wrong for a property purchased at a Pennsylvania tax deed sale. 

Let's start by figuring out two things. Which county authority conducted this tax sale - was it a sale conducted by the county Tax Claim Bureau (TCB) or was this at a county Sheriff sale? And the next piece needed is whether the occupants are the former owners (or heirs of deceased owners), or whether they are renters?

Until those two things are known, any advice is suspect. 

@Bobby C.

If they are the former owners or any party for which you do not have a written lease, then they are not tenants.  Therefore in PA, tenant laws would not apply.

How many times have I written on this forum and spoke at other locations about "how tax sales are the most hazardous way to buy real estate?"   Welcome to the hazard zone! 

If they are not tenants as defined by law, then their removal is by "Ejectment".  Unlike tenant eviction which is handled at the District Justice level and is easy to do yourself without an attorney, Ejectments must be done in the Court of Common Pleas, and while you CAN do it yourself, in almost all cases you will need an attorney.

If they are the former owners or a tenant with a lease, then they are not trespassers, and their removal is not a criminal matter but a civil matter that will not be helped by you calling the police or filing a police report.  They will politely tell you its a civil matter, go talk to an attorney. 

If the occupants are tenants with a lease, then under PA law their lease must be respected by the NEW OWNER, you for the full length of the lease.  If you want them out sooner you might try "keys for cash".

btw Ejectment can be a long process, elements of notice will be called into question and we had one that took 9 years to resolve. and there was another local one that took I think 12 years to resolve, buckle in you could be in for a long ride!

@Mike Cumbie @Steve Babiak @David Krulac

Gents, Thanks for responding.  Yes, I'm in the Hazardzone!

Steve, the property was purchased at the Delaware County TCB Judicial Sale.  (Free an Clear).  The persons living in the property are not the owner, but her adult daughter and family. There is no active/current rental nor lease agreement for these occupants.

David, the magistrate instructed me that I needed to do a landlord/tenant complaint. This was performed and a judgment was rendered in my favor.  Now, I am awaiting the 10 days to ask the Sheriff to remove them.  But, the occupant just informed me that she has filed an appeal for reasons specifically described as "for more time."  I have not received any paperwork for an appeal to date.

ALL,  I spoke to the occupant today via text, and she will allow me to enter into the premises to assess the building.  Can I change the locks and give her a key?  Then this wouldn't be a legal lock out..  I need to obtain access to the property in the future to get the insurance company to write a policy on the property while they are occupying the property....  Of course, I would still provide the occupants a 24 hour notice.  No insurance is truly the hazardzone!

Your thoughts???    Thanks!!!!!!

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I would wait until the sheriff shows up to remove them and you will probably be required to change the front and back door deadbolt at minimum at that time.  I've never had an insurance company request to see the inside of a property before providing a policy so I might shop around.

So you're certain that previous owner's name as it appears on title is not one of the occupants? And that she is still alive but living elsewhere?

If that is the case, then the occupants are not the owner, and so the district magistrate might have jurisdiction over the matter. If the owner was an occupant, then you would have had to file for ejectment with the county court of common pleas. 

So here is what is going to be odd - to appeal an eviction, the tenant has to post the rent with the court BUT you don't have a lease so no claim to any rent can be made. The tenant usually cannot post the rent so there is usually no appeal of an eviction. This occupant gets to appeal because they don't have to come up with any money ...

Originally posted by @Ned Carey :

Wow, I think the advice you have gotten is crazy and could wind you up in jail. I would note that all of it comes from people in other states where the laws may dramatically differ. Virtually none of the advice would be legal in MD. 

So in MD, after giving at least 24 hours notice, the legal owner of a house cannot enter if a renter or squatter doesn't allow them to? I find that hard to believe...

Since you're such an expert maybe you could post the laws so that we all can learn?

I think the assumptions were based on the idea of changing the locks - to lock a tenant out.  But, changing the locks and giving them a key shouldn't be a problem.  

Sure, they can just change it back, but that's not going to do them any additional favors in court.  They might not let you in, blah blah.  But, I still think it's legal for you to give them 24 hours notice that you're going to change the locks - and give them a key.

And I don't think doing this should have any bearing on the eviction.  It's not giving them permission to be there.

@Account Closed Laws for various states can be looked up in Lexus Nexis


I take properties all the time in tax sale foreclosure. The law in MD specifically states that I am NOT entitled to possession of the property without going through the proper legal process. In a tax sale case you file for a Writ of Possession. In other situations where the person in the property has no legal right to be there the process is called "Wrongful Detainer" in MD.

Laws vary tremendously from state to state. MD is a very liberal state with lots of protection for those that don't deserve it. California is also a tough state to get people out of a property legally. Yet I believe in some states you only need to post a three day notice and then can call the sheriff. 

So in MD, after giving at least 24 hours notice, the legal owner of a house cannot enter if a renter or squatter doesn't allow them to? I find that hard to believe...

What gives you that right in MD with a tenant is what is written in your lease. But with a squatter that does not apply. 

There is a very scary case from MD, known as the "Dackman" case. Dackman was sued by squatters, who had no legal right to be in the property, for lead paint poisoning and actually lost. The courts also found him personally liable even though the property was owned by an LLC.

Be thankful you are in NC. It sounds like you have it easier there.

They are "Squatters" not tenants. Start the ejectment process ASAP, it usually takes 2-3 months for it to finally have authorities remove them. Be prepared for some unwarranted behavior, such as districting of amenities. I went through this with a home I bought at a foreclosure sale. It took close to 6 months due to the major holidays and around $4,000 when all was said and done.

DO NOT change locks or enter the property without notice. Squatters actually have a slew of rights that you would never know they had as well as tenants. If you really want to go onto the property not enter into the property it will be a civil issue, so make sure you have police officers to escort you onto YOUR property. Good luck. It's going to be a long and frustrating road, but it will get done with persistence on your part.