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Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim 5776

P'ninat Mishpat: A Renters Responsibility for an Exploded Water Tank part I

(based on ruling 75016 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendants (=def) rented an apartment from the plaintiff (=pl) for an extended period of time. As the rental came to an end, def informed pl by text message that they had left. Workers were to work on renovations before new renters came in. The morning after def left, claimed pl, he and his workers found a major leak from the roof, which turned out to be from an exploded hot water tank, which, he saw by the indicator, had been left on. Leaving on an electric heated hot water tank is negligence, as the accumulated gases of boiled water is likely to cause an explosion, and according to the contract, def is obligated to pay for damages to the apartment that were not caused by normal use. He demands 2,200 shekels for a new tank (he is not suing for other slight damages from the leak). Def claims that they checked that all the electricity in the house was off when they left the apartment and in fact they had not used it in weeks, because in the summer, when they left, the solar heated water sufficed. They dispute the claim that pl found the problem on the morning after they left, because they communicated that day and pl said nothing. Rather, it was the second day, and in the meantime, pl’s workers worked and slept in the apartment, and one of them could have lit the boiler. In any case, def claims that a proper boiler does not explode when left on indefinitely because there are the double protections: a thermostat to shut the electricity when the water is hot enough and a gas-releasing valve to prevent over pressure. Pl says that malfunction of the boiler is not his fault since he replaced it 1-2 years ago.

 

Ruling: On the factual timing of events, pl’s claim is very difficult. The phone log we requested from him does not show any outgoing calls to def the morning he claimed that he discovered the leak and called def. A text message from that afternoon makes calm reference to who will pay for water during renovations and mentions no mention of water loss from an explosion. The claim can still exist as it is possible that def’s heating the water caused the explosion later, but it strengthens the possibility that someone else lit the boiler after def left.

Would leaving the boiler on be considered irresponsible? The amount of money claimed does not justify hiring an expert to submit an official report on the matter. However, beit din did its own research, including speaking to people in the field. It is clear that, in theory, leaving the boiler should not cause it to explode, especially due to the thermostat that all modern boilers have. On the other hand, it does happen that the thermostat malfunctions. In practice, there are different practices among homeowners and different advice given by experts.

Next week we will translate these indications about what happened and about accepted practice into a ruling.

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