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I am truly sorry to hear about the shabby treatment you received from your landlady. If you limit your claim to $12,000 you can file it yourself in Magisterial (Small Claims) court. This website looks like it might be very helpful. http://www.smallclaimadvisor.com/page_1.php?pid=3#1 The even seem to have a feature to help evaluate your claim. It should be fairly easy to present the case yourself. You can prove what she did by your verbal testimony. You can also testify as to your financial loss as a result. Witnesses, if you have any, will also help. This is a summary of Landlord Tenant law that you ought to be familiar with:
http://www.thelpa.com/lpa/landlord-tenant-law/pennsylvania-landlord-tenant-law.html SEE SECTION V. You appear to be clearly in the right. Good luck.
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Before you decide on the Common Pleas route you should go to the court and ask the clerk to show you a few files where damage claims have been filed. Look at complaints, answers and motions to get an idea of the formal pleadings that are needed. Then watch a few court and jury trials. If you think you can learn to do what those lawyers are doing, then you might have an outside chance of winning a common pleas case on your own. If your case is strong, you should be able to get help from an attorney who will work on a contingency fee basis. If you can't find one, it usually means that there's something wrong with your case. It might be that your opponent is financially weak and collection of a judgment would be a major problem. Lawyers don't want to win a case and then not be able to collect a judgment. There are websites and articles galore on line that profess to help pro se litigants. Some are free and some not. All I can do at this point is wish you the best of luck in getting compensated for the bad treatment you received. BTW, don't let too much time go by or you could run into a statute of limitations problem. You didn't say when the eviction occurred.
Attorneys don't want to take the case due to slim chance of recovering $$$. But with that out of the picture for now, how can the landlord have any defense when she didn't take even ONE legal step in the eviction or in the disposal of our property? It is so evident she is in the wrong. And I do plan on spending the next couple of weeks in court watching cases. I don't think I am so smart that I can pretend to be a lawyer. It's just that I can't afford one and my only alternative is to do it myself. Can a person obtain a sizeable judgment for punitive damages in small claims?