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Shabbat Parashat Behar Bechukotai 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: Dispute on the Manner in which a Rental Ended

(based on ruling 71077 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) rented out his apartment to the defendant (=def) during the course of three years based on a contract that was renewed orally. After def left the apartment, pl complained that he received it back in a condition that required a thorough cleaning (which cost 2,000 NIS in labor and materials) before it could be used. It also needed to be painted, and certain things needed fixing. Because of the deficiencies, the next planned renter, who had signed a contract, backed out, which caused a delay of a month until a new renter started paying, for which pl is suing for 3,500 NIS. Def responds that he gave back the apartment in a manner equivalent to how he received it, and thus he owes nothing. Also, def refused to return the key to the apartment, which pl claims required him to have a new cylinder installed at a cost of 450 NIS. Def counters that withholding the key was justified because pl owed him money, and that there was no need to change the cylinder because he is an upstanding person who would never break into an apartment to steal or damage.  

 

Ruling: The contract states that def must pay for damages that he causes to the apartment by means of poor or exaggerated usage. There was no evidence or strong claim that the alleged damages were caused in a manner in which def was culpable. Therefore, this charge is rejected.

While many rental agreements call for the renters to return the apartment freshly painted, that is because the contract states such. In this case, the contract does not mention such a requirement, and therefore def is not required to paint.

Clause 5 of the contract requires def to return the apartment “in good condition similar to when he received the apartment.” Unless pl signed an admission that the apartment was given to def when it was in poor condition, accepting the apartment as is, counts as an admission by def that it was in reasonable condition. On the other hand, pl does admit that the apartment was not in great condition when he gave it to def, although he claims that he paid for certain helpful items such as paint and an exterminator. The fact that def did not do anything about his complaints about the apartment’s condition when he received it until after he left it somewhat weakens the strength of his claims. Considering the varied indications, we use our authority to rule based on various forms of compromise to obligate def a sum of 600 NIS.

Regarding the claim that pl’s prospective renter backed out of his agreement due to def, we have seen the new contract, and it includes a penalty for backing out. [Considering that pl cleaned the apartment promptly before the new rental was to begin, the new renter did not have grounds to back out.] Pl may not waive enforcement of his contract to be nice to the new renter at the expense of def by trying to make def pay for the new renter’s breach of contract.

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