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Shabbat Parashat Toldot 5779

P'ninat Mishpat: Fee for Yishuv for Allowing Purchase of a Housing Unit

(based on ruling 76075 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl), a yishuv, raffled off among its interested members the right to buy mobile-home units, one which they owned and others that the Jewish Agency Department for Settlements (=the Chativa) owned. (The Chativa only sells these units to those chosen by pl). The former costs 130,000 shekels; the latter cost 114,000 shekels. The defendants (=def) won the rights to one of the latter. After winning the lottery, def received a letter from pl saying that they would have to pay 16,000 shekels to pl for the right to buy the unit. Def indicated that they would pay pl, but after finalizing the purchase with the Chativa, def refused to do so. Pl is suing for that money. Def claims that the Chativa told them before they finalized that pl is not authorized to demand money for the sale of the Chativa’s housing unit. Pl also argues that once def promised to pay, they are required to do so, especially because had they not done so, pl would not have allowed def to buy the unit. Def respond that there was a point at which they were prepared to pay the fee, but subsequently when the Chativa said that there was no need to do so, they are not willing to pay. The two sides also dispute whether the buyers were informed before the lottery that winners would be charged.


Ruling: The main question is whether pl was authorized to charge a price for the sale of the Chativa’s mobile-home, as each cite the Chativa as agreeing with them. Beit din queried the Chativa for their stand in writing. The gist of their legal counsel’s response is as follows. A yishuv may charge a reasonable fee for investments they made in making the unit available to the buyer, including expenses on infrastructure. They may not use it as an opportunity for general revenue creation, unless this is permitted by their charter. 

In this case, pl had stated that their justification for charging the 16,000 shekels was to make the price of all the different units the same (130,000). They did not demonstrate that it had anything to do with infrastructure or the like. Their charter also does not authorize the levying of taxes selectively, which this amounts to. Therefore, pl was not authorized to demand the money.

Regarding def’s agreement to pay, def explain that at the time they made it, they did not yet know that payment was not required. The halacha is that if one agrees to an obligation to pay based on a false premise, they are not bound by it (Gittin 14a; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 40:1). That being said, it was improper for def to have agreed to pay without making it explicitly contingent on the decision of the Chativa on the matter, and refuse only after the sale was complete. They should have been up-front on the matter and could have argued, at the time they heard about the extra charge, pl’s rights to cancel their winning of the lottery.


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