An illegal lockout is a crime. It is against the law for a landlord to lock out a tenant without a sheriff or landlord-tenant officer or before the landlord followed the legal process and obtained an Alias Writ of Possession. It is also illegal to try to evict tenants by force, or by turning off their utilities or removing their possessions or boarding up their doors, or by any other means except with a sheriff or a landlord-tenant officer. If there was no Alias Writ, the lockout is illegal and you can return to your home.
Call 911. Philadelphia Code 9-1600 directs the police to help tenants facing the illegal lock-outs. A police officer should respond to a complaint about an illegal lockout. The officer may ask you to prove that you a tenant (though you do not have to have a written lease). If the landlord is present, the police should ask the landlord for a copy of the Alias Writ of Possession that was served by a sheriff or a landlord-tenant officer.
If the landlord cannot produce the Alias Writ, the police should inform the tenant that they are entitled to re-enter their home; and tell the landlord to restore access, turn on the utilities, etc., or face arrest for violating the anti-lockout law. If the landlord refuses to let you back in or restore your utility service, etc., the law directs the police to take the landlord into custody and issue a summary offense citation. This may result in a criminal hearing. If the landlord is not present, you can get a locksmith to change the locks. Get a receipt. This expense can be deducted from the rent.
It is possible that a police officer who responds to your complaint may not be familiar with the law. Be sure to get the name of the police officer, call the officer’s district, and ask to speak to the shift commander. Tell the supervisor you would like Philadelphia Code 9-1600 enforced. If the police still will not help you, call TURN