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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: Paying for an Unwanted Rental

(based on ruling 80014 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) rented an apartment from the plaintiff (=pl) for 4,100 NIS a month for 10 months and left monthly checks, starting from 1.10.19. On 4.10.19, def informed pl that he would not be taking the apartment, and pl did not succeed in finding a tenant until 5.11.19 (that tenant pays 4,200 NIS a month). Def justifies his changing his mind in the following ways: 1) The sewage works with a pumping system, which makes it forbidden on Shabbat. Pl responds that the pumping system is permitted according to some poskim, and in any case, he installed a big enough underground tank that if one drains it before Shabbat, he can shut off the pump on Shabbat. 2) Def has the right to an arnona (municipal tax) exemption, but he cannot get it for this apartment. 3) Not all of def’s furniture fits into the apartment. 3) Criminals threatened def, making it necessary to rent an apartment quickly, but actually he cannot afford such an apartment. Def adds that they had agreed, after the conflict arose, that paying 1,000 NIS would cover pl’s grievance.   

 

Ruling: One cannot claim mekach ta’ut (misinformed consent) to things that he was or should have been aware of when making his agreement. This applies to the price, the arnona exemption, and the ability to fit in the furniture.

Regarding the sewage pump, the previous tenant confirms that it is possible to operate it in a manner that avoids all halachic questions. Def claims that he was unaware of this; pl claims he told him. It does not make sense that pl would invest in a system that enables strict Shabbat observance and not tell a renter who had made an issue of it.

Regarding the pressure due to the criminals, this is not a proper use of the concept of pressure for a transaction. This is because there was not pressure placed on def specifically to rent the apartment. Rather, the criminals put pressure on def, and def’s solution to his problem was to rent an apartment to get away from them. This is called “one’s own duress” and is not grounds to nullify an agreement (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 205:12).

Regarding the claim of agreement on partial payment, first, def contradicted himself on the amount they agreed to, and pl denies it totally. Also, it makes sense that if there were such an agreement, it was on the condition that def pay promptly, and to this point, def has not paid anything.

It is arguable whether def should have to pay for the loss of rental for the days the apartment was not rented or for the amount pl lost over the 10 months of the agreed rental. The latter is less money because for the remainder of the time, the new renter is paying a higher rent than def agreed to. Since the two agreed to a compromise that includes def’s financial difficulties, we definitely choose the latter system. Because of the sides’ special compromise request, we lower the sum even lower to 2,500 NIS on condition that def pay within two months. If he does not pay on time, he will have to pay 3700 NIS (without the special compromise) plus the beit din fee.

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Nir Rephael ben Rachel Bracha
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