In Pennsylvania, landlords are prohibited from employing self-help evictions when dealing with tenants and former tenants. However, query if such prohibition exists when property owners seek to evict trespassers. Trespassers are not subject to the Landlord and Tenant Act. A “tenant” occupies an owner’s premises in subordination to the owner’s title and with his express or implied assent. Not so for trespassers.

A property owner who never engaged in a landlord-tenant relationship with a trespasser may be permitted to employ peaceful self-help procedures to remove said trespasser from the owner’s property. In Clarenbach v. Giordano, 11 Pa. D. & C.3d 195 (C.P. Philadelphia 1978), a property owner entered into a lease with a tenant, and tenant’s companion later moved in. After tenant stopped paying rent and abandoned the premises, owner informed companion that she needed to vacate the property. When companion failed to leave, owner eventually changed the locks.

The court ruled that owner was not bound by the Landlord and Tenant Act, and was entitled to employ self-help measures as to the companion. The court reasoned that the companion was a trespasser with no permission to occupy the premises. The companion never made rent payments and was notified by owner that she needed to leave when tenant abandoned the property. “Against a trespasser in possession, the [owner] has a right to the remedy of self help and is not required to revert to any legal process, especially when he obtains possession peaceably.”

Before property owners employ peaceful self-help procedures, they should seek legal advice to ensure that the unwelcome occupiers are not afforded comparable protections. For instance, where non-tenant squatters carry out certain actions, property owners may then be required to pursue a formal ejectment process.

For more information on this subject, or property owners’ rights in general, please feel free to contact Rob Gundlach at (215) 918-3636 or rgundlach@foxrothschild.com.