Pennsylvania Small Claims Court Process

Pennsylvania Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: December 12, 2022 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $12,000
Deadline to File 4 years – written or oral contract
Filing Fees $55 – $137: Magisterial District Court

$67.55 – $111.75: Municipal Court

Appeal Deadline 30 days

Small Claims Court Basics in Pennsylvania

Small Claims Court is an informal court designed for minor cases limited to a maximum claim amount. The trial does not involve a jury. Instead, the plaintiff and defendant present their case to the judge, who makes a decision.

Common suits filed by landlords include:

  • Recovery of unpaid rent
  • Damages that exceed the amount of the security deposit
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Early termination of a lease

Common suits filed by tenants include:

  • Failure to return the security deposit correctly
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Overcharging for damages

How Long Does the Small Claims Court Process Take in Pennsylvania?

A typical small claims case in Pennsylvania takes one to two months, from the date of filing, but can be longer if there are problems serving the defendant, the trial is continued, or other delays occur.

How Much Can You Sue For in Small Claims Court in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $12,000.

To attempt to recover an amount of more than $12,000, the suit must be filed in the Court of Common Pleas.

How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claims Case in Pennsylvania?

You must file a small claims case in Pennsylvania within 4 years.

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Pennsylvania?

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney. However, either party can be represented by an attorney if they so choose.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Pennsylvania?

In Philadelphia, small claims are filed in Municipal Court. In all other cities in Pennsylvania, small claims are filed in the Magisterial District Court where the rental property is located.

If the rental property is outside of Philadelphia, visit the Pennsylvania Court Magisterial District Judges website and search by the zip code of the rental property. Call the magisterial district judge to confirm the correct court.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Pennsylvania

File a Complaint by mail or in person (if allowed by the court) using the Magisterial District Court Civil Complaint or Landlord Complaint form or the Philadelphia Municipal Court Statement of Claim (“complaint”) form. The clerk will schedule the trial date after the complaint is filed.

note

Philadelphia Municipal Court and some Magisterial District Courts allow filing by mail, but some Magisterial District Courts require you to file in person. Check with the court to determine what filing methods they allow.

In Magisterial District Court, the Landlord Complaint form is only used by landlords and is for damages to the property, wrongful entry, or unpaid rent. The Civil Complaint form is used by tenants and for all other landlord complaints.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Case in Small Claims Court in Pennsylvania?

It costs between $67.55 to $111.75 to file a case in Municipal Court if you are filing in Philadelphia, and between $55 and $137 to file in Magisterial District Court if you are filing outside of Philadelphia. Filing fees vary depending on the amount sought in damages.

What if You Can’t Afford to File a Case?

You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by filing an Informa Pauperis Petition if you are in Philadelphia or a Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis if you are located in any other city.

You can also contact the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) or Community Legal Services of Philadelphia to seek financial assistance.

Small Claims Court Process in Pennsylvania

After filing a small claims case in Pennsylvania, a trial is scheduled, the complaint is served on the defendant and the defendant has an opportunity to respond before the trial.

In Philadelphia Municipal Court, trials are scheduled no more than 30 days after filing. In Magisterial District Court, trials are scheduled between 12 and 60 days after filing.

Step 1: Serve the defendant at least 10 days prior to the court trial. Service can be completed by constable, sheriff, or by certified mail. If serving by mail, the return receipt must be provided to the judge.

Step 2: Defendant’s response to the complaint.  In Pennsylvania, the defendant is required to respond to the complaint to avoid default judgment. In Philadelphia Municipal Court, a response is provided by filing a Notice of Defense. In Magisterial District Court, a response is provided by calling the court’s number listed on the complaint.

note

The form of the Notice of Defense is provided on page 8 of the Philadelphia Civil Division Local Rules.

Alternatively, the defendant can file a counterclaim. In Municipal Court, the counterclaim must be filed at least 10 days prior to the trial.

In Magisterial District Court, the counterclaim must be filed at least 5 days prior to the trial. The counterclaim does not need to relate to the same issue as the plaintiff’s original complaint.

If a counterclaim is filed, it must be served on the plaintiff in the same method as the complaint, and the trial will be rescheduled.

Step 3: Attend the trial. On the trial date, you should bring copies of any evidence you have to support your claim. The judge will give you and the defendant an opportunity to provide your arguments before deciding to dismiss the case or issue a judgment at the trial or within 5 days.

If the defendant does not attend the trial, the judge will issue you a default judgment.

Winning a Small Claims Judgment in Pennsylvania

If you win the judgment in Pennsylvania, the other party may appeal the case, you may be paid the judgment within the allotted time period, or you may need to pursue additional actions to recover the debt.

Either party of the suit can appeal the decision to the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of the trial by filing a Notice of Appeal. The form can be obtained from the clerk in Magisterial District Court or from the Philadelphia court website if you are appealing from Municipal Court.

When the judge issues the judgment, they will determine a time period for repayment up to 12 months. In the best case, the judgment debtor pays their debt within this period.

If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, you can recover the debt through wage garnishment, bank levy, or property lien. You can file an Order of Execution through the court where the judgment was issued to seek court-enforced repayment of the judgment.

You have 5 years to collect a judgment before it expires.

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