Help him get his stuff back
August 14, 2007 7:47 AM   Subscribe

My friend was evicted! How can he get his stuff back?

The following is the question in my friend's own words:
Three weeks ago my roommate and I were evicted for unpaid rent. And I
don't mean they gave us the notice, I mean I was in the shower when
the sheriff and the locksmith were knocking on my door telling me to
get out. Only after this was I able to find out that my roommate had
owed 2700 dollars in rent, and that all of the eviction/court notices
were on file as having been sent/posted on the premises (I never saw
any of them). I had no idea any of this was going on, the rug had
been totally pulled out from under me, but technically we were still
evicted legally.

Now, from what I understand, I have 30 days to make arrangements to
get my possessions out of the house before they can do whatever they
want with everything. But in the three weeks since I was evicted, my
landlord has completely dropped off the face of the earth. I have
left dozens of messages, sent certified letters, and even driven out
to his house in the 'burbs and knocked on the door (ended up leaving
a note). At this point, my roommate has scraped together the cash to
settle the debt and get the judgement removed, and I've told the
landlord as much, but still no word.

The only person I've been able to get in touch with is the landlord's
attorney. He also claims he hasn't heard from the landlord since the
eviction, and won't accept the money and sign off on the order to
satisfy because of that. So here we have a check to settle the debt
and nobody to give it to!

Naturally, I'm worried that I'm going to run out of time here and
lose my stuff. In this situation, is there any action I can take to
get my belongings back without needing to involve the landlord? I'd
like to avoid breaking in, as the landlord has family on the block
who has been to prison for murder. (I remember when I moved in and,
in an effort to reassure me about the blocks safety, he told me, "If
I ever saw anybody breaking into your house, I'd probably kill them.")

Do I have any legal options here?
posted by splatta to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What state/city?
posted by dcjd at 7:50 AM on August 14, 2007

Response by poster:
(Note: This is in Philadelphia, and they are both on the lease, so the
judgement is on both of their heads.)
posted by splatta at 7:51 AM on August 14, 2007

You should probably contact the sheriff's office. They were there, and they know the law. And they're going to end up involved if you sue the landlord so it's a time-saver if they help you now. You've got the receipts for the certified letters, which is probably most of what you need to prove you've made reasonable attempts to contact the landlord.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:55 AM on August 14, 2007

Yes - consult a legal professional in your jurisdiction.
posted by dmt at 7:58 AM on August 14, 2007

So that's my story up there. Thanks to splatta for posting it for me and for the replies so far. Wanted to be able to follow up so I finally created an account!

Anyway, I have consulted tenants rights groups in the city as well as talked to a few lawyers who are friends/acquantances of mine. None of their advice has yeilded results, and I'm now getting to the point where I'm ready to hire somebody. Was hoping to avoid that though.
posted by agilbert at 8:26 AM on August 14, 2007

A quick google of philly landlord renter turns up this at the top hit on RentLaw. At the bottom appears this contact information, who would probably be a good group to call:

Also contact the following agencies for additional help:

(800) 322-7572

Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLSA) is a private, nonprofit corporation which provides legal services for poor and vulnerable individuals in southwestern Pennsylvania

This public Information was obtained from a pamphlet that edited by Neighborhood Legal Services Association and produced by Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, Inc. along with comments and notes from

posted by phearlez at 8:28 AM on August 14, 2007

Can I stop a sale of my belongings?
posted by grouse at 8:34 AM on August 14, 2007

If there's any chance that you're a student, you might be able to get free legal help through your school.
posted by drezdn at 8:44 AM on August 14, 2007

The eviction notice has a judge behind it somewhere. Find out who that judge is, and give the money to his clerk.
posted by yesster at 9:24 AM on August 14, 2007

I'd recommend doing getting your stuff back first, but if they never actually served either of you with eviction papers, and claimed they did, you can introduce them to a whole new world of hurt. Are you sure your roommate wasn't hiding the fact that he had been served papers?

And Lyn Never is wrong. The sheriff's office does not know the law. That's what attorneys are for.

Do save the return receipts from your certified letters so that if it comes to it, you can prove that you tried to contact your landlord multiple times.
posted by oaf at 9:33 AM on August 14, 2007

agilbert, if three weeks of your allowable 30 days have run, you need to be past the point of being ready to hire somebody and at the point of having hired somebody. You have waited a dangerously long time.

The steps you took on your own are great, and certainly from a fairness perspective, you've attempted to resolve this in good faith. But there's a point where you have to admit you're in over your heads, and at the tail end of a statutory period is pretty much one of them.

Some judges give pro se parties a lot of leeway, and some give them none. Realistically, going it alone at this point would mean coming up to speed on the law and hoping for the best when it comes to court rules and procedure and trying to select your best options without the benefit of training or experience. Then you'd have to figure you how to execute your option and wing that mother. And all with a deadline looming.

We say this far too much on the green without any other context, but here it's completely justified: Get an attorney now.

Stop what you're doing. Take the rest of the day off. Start calling attorneys. Ask your friends for references, do what you gotta, but start making calls and find somebody. The more time you can give them to get the ball rolling, the better.

Best of luck.
posted by averyoldworld at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2007

He should contact TURN immediately.
posted by The Straightener at 10:49 AM on August 14, 2007

oaf: It's very possible that he was hiding that from me. He says he wasn't, but everyone I've spoken to says that's the only reasonable explanation. Everything is on record and looks legit with the court.

Straightener: I've been to TURN and spoken with one of the counselors there. She said she'd try and move things forward with the landlord, but she has since been unreachable. Honestly, the best advice she had for me was to break in, which was frustrating to say the least.

I just got back from the municipal court where they said the only recourse I really have is to sue the landlord for the value of my stuff.

I will be contacting lawyers this afternoon.
posted by agilbert at 11:09 AM on August 14, 2007

I would also consider going to the landlord's attorney with the money again, and when he refuses to take it, demand that he sign a paper saying you offered the money to him. (A) He's the landlord's attorney, and one of the points of having an attorney is that it's someone you can contact and give notices to rather than having to track down the client. (B) The paper trail showing that that you offered to set things right could be very helpful.

I'm totally not a landlord-tenant attorney, so my advice could be less than useless, but from your story, the bit about the landlord's attorney was the part that made me sit up and go, "that's not right!"
posted by grimmelm at 12:36 PM on August 14, 2007

Just got back from filing a "Petition to Satisfy" with the Municipal Court. If it's accepted, I'll be put in front of a judge and the landlord/his attorney will need to be there so I can pay them. At the very least, this will let me pay the court instead of having to reach the landlord.

Still, everyone I've talked to says my only recourse to retrieve my belongings is by suing the landlord in small claims court for their value.
posted by agilbert at 1:51 PM on August 14, 2007

everyone I've talked to says my only recourse to retrieve my belongings is by suing the landlord in small claims court for their value.

You may be misunderstanding. You should be able to file a complaint in replevin if the landlord still has the property. But I doubt you can do that in small claims court—you probably can only sue for money there.

I wouldn't think of doing this without consulting a lawyer first.
posted by grouse at 2:12 PM on August 14, 2007

I realize I'm late to this party, but as far as the Sherriff's documents are concerned, a friend of mine was once evicted similarly and the City Marshalls (Brooklyn) faked service and forged signatures. I'm just sayin' - it happens.

Also, if you owe them money and they won't accept it, consider putting the money into an escrow account.
posted by Uccellina at 10:48 PM on August 15, 2007

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