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Shabbat Parashat Vayeilech 5777

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

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

Case: The defendants (=def) rented an apartment from the plaintiff (=pl). As the rental ended, def informed pl by text message that they had left. Workers were to do renovations before new renters came in. Pl claimed that the morning after def left, he and his workers found a major leak from the roof, which turned out to be from an exploded boiler, which, he saw by the indicator, had been left on. He argues that leaving on an electric boiler is negligence, as the accumulation of 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. Def claims that they checked that all the electricity was off before leaving the apartment, and, in fact, they had not used the boiler in weeks, because in the summer, when they left, 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 on 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 of double protection: a thermostat to shut the electricity when the water is hot enough and a gas-releasing valve to prevent over pressure. Pl says that the boiler’s malfunction is not his fault since he replaced it 1-2 years ago.

 

Ruling: We saw last time that while part of pl’s claims were difficult to accept, it is possible that def left the boiler on and that in a small minority of cases, this can cause an explosion of the tank.

Under these circumstances, if the damage was because def left the boiler on, it would seem to be a case of only partially extenuating circumstances, in which a shomer sachar (including a renter) should be obligated. There are many halachic issues to discuss (shemira for land, meita machmat melacha), but these are not relevant because the contract stated the conditions under which def were responsible for damage. It stated that they must pay if damage was caused by “unreasonable use.” We found that some people never shut off the boiler, and others are careful. Is “unreasonable” determined by the individual landlord? Can one distinguish between consistently leaving the boiler on and occasionally forgetting to shut it?

Beit din considers that pl said that he only came to beit din because he is sure that def left the boiler on, and we see little reason he should be confident of that. Def, on the other hand, expressed that he had been willing to pay a small amount of money. The accumulated factors on behalf of def’s exemption is far greater than for their need to pay. On the other hand, it is likely that def would have been obligated to swear if we were in the practice of administering oaths. Therefore, this is a perfect case to apply our authority to rule out of compromise that is close to din. We thus obligate def to pay 150 shekels plus half of the beit din fee.
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