Suing for damages may be a good solution for you if you’ve already spent your own money to get things repaired, or if you’re moving out and think you deserve some rent back because the home had serious problems. You can sue whether you are staying in the home or moving out, although it’s usually difficult while you are still a tenant.
Before bringing this kind of lawsuit, you should make sure that you’ve notified the landlord of the problems in writing, and given a reasonable chance to make the repairs. You may also bring the complaint as a “cross complaint” if the landlord files for eviction.
Pennsylvania’s “small claims court” is the Magisterial District Court and cases are heard by the Magisterial District Judge (MDJ). MDJs hear landlord tenant cases and civil complaints. There are standard “complaint forms” available at the local office or on the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) website at www.pacourts.us.
In this complaint, you can ask for money damages. For example, you can ask for the amount of money you’ve spent to repair the problem or to make your place more livable. You might want to ask for a refund for part or all of the rent you paid during the time period when the problem made your home uninhabitable. If your utility bills were unusually high because of the problem, you could ask that the landlord be charged the difference.
If your property was damaged or destroyed because of the bad conditions (spoiled food, damaged clothing, or furniture), include the reasonable value of the items in your complaint. You would have to show that the landlord knew about the need for the repair and failed to take necessary action.
You will have to bring evidence, such as photographs. It is best if you print out pictures that are on your cellphone or camera. It would also be helpful for other people who have seen the bad conditions to come to your hearing and testify for you. If the local Code Enforcement inspector ordered repairs and the landlord failed to comply, ask the inspector to testify at the hearing and bring any notices sent to you and the landlord. If they need a subpoena, the MDJ can issue one upon request of a party to the lawsuit.
You will need to prove that these problems were your landlord’s fault or responsibility and that the landlord didn’t fix the problems within a reasonable time after you told the landlord about them. Bring to court all receipts for your expenses, back rent, utility bills, and for anything else you are asking the MDJ to reimburse you for having to deal with this problem.