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Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim Vayeilech 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: Proper Return of Rented Apartment

(based on ruling 76097 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) rented out his apartment over decades to two educational institutions, first to the defendant (=def), then for a long time to the previous renter (=pr), and for the last two years to def again. Def told pl on June 10 that they were leaving on June 30 and paid rent until then. Originally, the apartment had been for families, and changes were made to transform them for dormitories (e.g., extra showers instead of a bath). Def entered into pr’s rental agreement without a new contract. Pl claims that he told def that they must return it to a family apartment at rental’s end. Def denies there was such a commitment and started doing only minor repairs. Pl was unhappy with def’s workers and did renovations over the summer. Pl demands rent for three months from the end of the renovations, because that is the required period of notification by law for vacating an apartment. Def argues that since they were working without a contract, a month’s notice was sufficient. Pl also demands payment for the renovations (47,718 NIS). Def acknowledges responsibility only for the minimal changes they made (admittedly, without permission), which they already fixed. Pl is skeptical that def didn’t change anything else and says that they anyway accepted pr’s obligations.

 

Ruling: Even according to pl’s account about their stipulation, it was to “return the property to a normal state,” and since it had been a dorm for decades, that would not indicate acceptance of a major renovation. Under such circumstances, he lacks the ability to extract money. Although pl claims that the apartment was overall in bad repair, since pl knowingly rented out the apartment for decades as a dormitory, this is the expected state to find it.

As far as the claims that def made many changes, beit din inquired of pr, who confirmed that it was already used as a dorm when they were renters. While they did not remember details, it strengthens def’s claims that they changed little upon starting to rent, and pl has not proven his case for their payment. Because it is unclear if def did enough to restore the apartment to its proper state and it is wasteful to hire an expert, we will have def pay 1,000 NIS toward renovations.

As far as notification, the standard halacha is that if there was no set time to finish the rental, both sides need to give a month’s notice in a small city and 12 months in a central city (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 312:7-8). If a renter leaves earlier, he must continue paying. By Israeli law, one must give three months’ notice, and this is the local practice as well. The payment could be either because leaving without proper notification causes damage or because it is an assumed acceptance of responsibility. In this case, though, since pl decided to take the opportunity to make serious renovations over a few months, at which time he could not rent out to another nor could def go back to using it even if he were to pay, it is not a real loss for which payment is appropriate.  

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Nir Rephael ben Rachel Bracha
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