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In Pennsylvania, landlord-tenant cases are usually filed in District Justice Court. You may have heard this kind of court referred to as Small Claims Court. Filing suit in District Justice Court is a relatively simple proccess. You don't need a lawyer to represent you. You can file a claim in District Justice Court as long as your damages (i.e., amounts claimed) are under $8,000. A filing fee (ranging from $37.50 to $82.50, depending on the amount in dispute) is required. If you win your case, the other party will usually be required to reimburse you for the filing fee.

There are several District Justice Court offices in Pittsburgh; each one has jurisdiction over a certain geographic area. To determine which office has jurisdiction over your claim, call the District Justice Court Administrative office at 412-350-5485. Once you've determined the appropriate office, you can start your action by filing a claim there, stating what the dispute is and what your damages are. The District Justice will schedule a hearing where all parties will have the right to tell their stories, present witnesses and documents and question each other's witnesses. After the parties are done presenting their cases, the District Justice will make a decision, either at the end of the hearing or by mail. (If a hearing is scheduled and you don't show up, you automatically lose.)

If you don't agree with the decision, you can file an appeal with the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of the District Justice's decision. A Common Pleas Court case is a more formal process and requires following all the regular court rules and procedures. You will probably want a lawyer to advise you if you file an appeal.

Presenting Your Case.You should prepare for your hearing with the District Justice by thinking about your case and gathering all the evidence you can to support your side of the story. Evidence can take the form of your own testimony, the testimony of others with relevent knowledge, and documentary evidence. For instance, if your case is about not receiving your security deposit, your evidence might consist of your own and your rommate's testimony that the apartment was clean and undamaged when you moved out, photos taken of the clean apartment, and receipts for payments for cleaning services or cleaning products.

If you can't afford an attorney, you can obtain low-cost legal assistance from the:

Allegheny County Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service