If a tenant was served with a Landlord and Tenant Complaint but arrived late or missed the scheduled court hearing, the tenant may lose his/her case even if the landlord had no grounds for eviction. Failure to appear, or late arrival, will lead to what is called a default judgment. If a default judgment is entered against the tenant, but, the tenant disagrees with the terms of this judgment, a Petition to Open must be filed as soon as possible.
Petition to Open Default Judgment
The Petition to Open is filed with the Philadelphia Municipal Court Judgment and Petition Unit, and asks the Court to set aside the judgment, and then schedule a new court hearing. There will be a filing fee associated with filing the Petition, and the tenant must be prepared to pay the fee when filing the Petition. [To determine the fee call the Judgment & Petition Unit of the Philadelphia Municipal Court.] The decision to grant a new court hearing is not automatic. The Petition must contain enough information to convince a Judge there are good reasons to set the default judgment aside, and give the tenant another day in court. The tenant must state clearly in the Petition to Open, all of the following:
• The petition has been filed within 30 days of the default judgment [if possible file within 10 days of the hearing];
• A “good” reason for being late or not appearing in court for the scheduled hearing; [“I was just 5 minutes late”, is not considered a good reason];
• A defense- or defenses- to the landlord claims on the LT Complaint. [For example, this means a defense to any claim for rent or other money owed; a defense to termination of the lease involving the presence of L & I violations, lead paint, a detailed description of needed repairs, etc.] If you have more than one defense, include them all in the Petition.
If the tenant has copies of L & I violations, rent receipts showing payment(s), Health Department Notices of Lead Paint, or any other documents that help the tenant’s case, those items should be attached to the Petition to Open. Remember! Only attach copies- not the originals. The tenant will need the original documents (or other copies) if the Court decides to grant a new hearing.
At the time the Petition is filed, the court will provide a form directing the tenant, or the person filing the Petition, to call in a few days to find out if the Petition was “granted”. If the Petition to Open is granted, another fee, called the “service fee” must be paid to the court, and the tenant will then be given a new hearing and an opportunity to present a defense- or defenses- to the eviction.
If the Petition is denied, the tenant may file an appeal requesting a stay of the eviction from the Court of Common Pleas. The appeal is called an Appeal of a Denial of a Petition, and is different from the Appeal filed when a tenant actually appears on time for the hearing. It is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney before attempting to file an Appeal of Denial to the Court of Common Pleas, as it can be a complex filing for non-lawyers.