Need Advice on Philadelphia Rental Property

13 Replies

Hi BP,

I have an interesting situation going on at a Philadelphia rental property. Long story short, my father in law purchased several rental properties in Philly years ago under my husband's name. But apparently he never wanted to put in any sort of work or effort to manage it. The current tenant is paying 1/3 of market rent, and the fact that he's fine with just throwing money down the drain just b/c he doesn't want to put in the work to bring the rent to market value or just hire a PM company to handle it is beyond my comprehension.

Since the property is under my husband's name, I've been pushing him to get his dad to just let us take over the property, and although my FIL wasn't willing to before, he's finally agreed to it, especially now that the tenant hasn't even paid rent in months!!

Here's where things get complicated...

  1. My FIL doesn't have the contact information of the tenant (he apparently lost his phone a while ago and lost her contact info)
  2. Come to find out, he has NO lease in place with the tenant! And from what I've heard, it can get really tricky in Philly to evict a tenant w/o a lease if they're considered squatters?
  3. And here's the kicker, apparently he foreclosed on the two other properties he purchased in Philly, and supposedly there's a lien on this property, and he never told us about this until recently. He also doesn't want to take the time to dig up the info on the lien. So should I do a title search, or should I try to get the bank info from my FIL and contact the banks to get more details on the liens myself?

The fact that someone is willing to purchase rental properties out of state with no intention of ever putting any work into it and let it get to this point is bewildering to me. So now we're stuck with cleaning up this mess he's made, with the hopes of turning this property into a normal cash flowing property after getting the tenant out and rehabbing it.

My husband and I had originally planned on just driving up there to check on the property, to see if the tenant is still even living there and start the process of getting her out. But since driving up there just to knock on the door, without knowing if there's even anyone there, seems to be counterproductive.

I've spoken to some real estate investors in the Philly area to see what I should do to get this sorted out, and I seem to be getting some conflicting info.

On one hand, I was told that I can hire a PM company in the area who can do everything on my behalf - go check on the property, and if there's someone there, take the necessary steps to get them out, whether it's starting the eviction process, or even offer them some money to move out.

But I've also been told that I need to contact a lawyer first instead of a PM company, and I'd need a lawyer to do the eviction. I'm thinking this may be jumping the gun, since if the tenant is willing to cooperate, then it won't ever get to the eviction point?

I'd appreciate any advice on the proper steps to take to get the ball rolling in getting this mess sorted out!

Thanks in advance!

Don't waste your time. Hire an attorney to clean this up because you have quite a few things going on here. As a Property Manager, I wouldn't touch this until you had your ducks in a row.

Hi @Stacy Weng,

Welcome to BP!

Very sorry to hear of the circumstances. I am a membership committee member of HAPCO the Philadelphia Landlord Association which is a not for profit advocate for Landlords in Philadelphia. Let me know if I can refer you any assistance.


Joe Scorese

As my colleague @Joseph Scorese suggested, you should explore HAPCO given that you have a Philadelphia rental property. HAPCO has a deal for its members who need to evict - they have an eviction attorney that will do the whole eviction for a very reasonable price; I guesstimate that the cost of a non-HAPCO eviction attorney would cost more than the total of the HAPCO membership plus the cost of the HAPCO attorney.

But I suspect you have more problems here than just the fact that there is no lease document. Philadelphia has some crazy rental regulations, and failure to comply can result in the judge ruling that no back rent is due! HAPCO has some really good documents that spell out the Philadelphia regulations that a landlord must follow.

And if you are getting a PM, the HAPCO newsletter has some PM advertisers - but there is one PM advertising in the HAPCO newsletter that you would best avoid; I can tell you that privately if you need to know. Please do send a brief message with your colleague request if you need to message me privately.

@Stacy Weng It does sound like you need a good Property Manager and an Attorney. I would get a property manager that has the ability/desire to get the holdings on track. The property manager should be able to recommend/oversee things through with the attorney.

A big part of what a good property manager does is accountability. An attorney will hopefully do their best for you; but an attorney I refer is also doing his best to keep my future business.

Hello @Stacy Weng ,  I am a HAPCO member and went through an eviction last year.  @Steve Babiak is absolutely correct about the lower cost and service provided by HAPCO for the eviction process. 

However, I believe you have some problems that go beyond an eviction process and finding a management company. 

Firstly, tenants always have a lease of some kind.  If it is not written then it is an oral lease or inferred by action, meaning the action of the tenant paying rent creates a lease. Therefore, you will have to go through the process of giving legal notice and then completing the eviction process.  Secondly, based on your statements I suspect that your father-in-law is not renting in Philly legally.  In Philadelphia a rental is a business and you must comply with certain laws and regulations.  You must have a valid business license and current rental licenses.  You are also required to submit yearly tax returns on your business profits. Thirdly, if you father-in-law does not have his licenses and/or submitted tax returns he is not operating legally.

You cannot evict a tenant in the Philadelphia if you do not have the required licenses, etc.  In fact, you are prohibited from collecting rent.  So, any rent that has been collected is subject to being returned to the tenant because it is illegally received.  Possibly the tenant knows this and this is why she has stopped paying her rent.  Also, if your father-in-law is not making any repairs to the property and keeping it up to code, he may have crossed into the 'slum lord' arena.  There is a big push right now from one of Philadelphia's newly elected councilwomen to identify and punish slum lords.  It has been identified that the vast majority of slum lords operating in the city are from out of town and doing so illegally.  According to the councilwoman these slum lords are evicting tenants at such an alarming percentage that Philadelphia is experiencing an Eviction Crisis.

I believe you could work through most of this on your own.  It will take patience and many hours of sitting down at the city department of Licenses and Inspections.  With respect to the lien, again depending on the type of lien,  it you may be able to find the details on the Philadelphia Courts website.  It is public information and can be assessed by anyone free of charge.  Alternatively, you might be able to find someone (not a management company), like a friend or family who may be willing to do the foot work for you, so you don't have to spend so much time coming up to Philly.

I hope this helps and good luck.


@Paulette Midgette Thank you, this is all super helpful info! Unfortunately, I guess my FIL left a much bigger mess for us to clean up than we ever thought. =/  Regarding the oral lease, how would that hold up in court during an eviction process if there isn't any sort of documentation? And say best case scenario, the tenant moved out, can the City of Philadelphia still make you return rent collected if there wasn't a license in place before? How do they determine the rent amount if there's no written lease in place?

And for the lien search, is the correct site to find this type of info? It looks like you have to pay, so I just want to make sure it's the right site before moving forward. Although I've heard that it can be hard to find all the lien info on the public site, so would it make more sense to just pay for a lien/judgement search?

Sorry for all the questions, just want to make sure I understand everything so I can get this sorted out the proper way!


Hi @Stacy Weng ,  Cancelled checks, money order stubs, bills in the tenants name with address of the property and of course your business and rental license (which will confirm your ownership of the property) are some of the ways I can think of. 

If the tenant has moved and unless the former tenant files some type of complaint with the City against you for operating an illegal business, I don't see how the city would be aware of your situation.  At this time the City isn't putting a lot of effort into tracking down landlords operating outside of City regulations.  I am pretty sure you would stay under the radar. 

Link below for court cases search.  This particular search is free.  Follow the link, click the drop down menu under 'search court records - court of common pleas - search trial division/civil dockets - accept the disclaimer" select your search criteria and input the required information.

I'm wondering a lot of landlords offers money(cash) to tenants to move out. Once the tenants moved out to a new place. The new landlord can't see any evictions history or records but the tenants seems don't like to pay rents. How can we find out about the tenants background if the tenants don't want to give previous landlord phone numbers or tenants have friends phone number and pretend they were the landlord.