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Shabbat Parashat Haazinu 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Inefficient Use of Storage Space

(based on ruling 73021 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) rented out storage space to the defendant for restaurant furniture. Def hired porters who were recommended by pl to deliver and stack his items. In the moving van, they fit into approximately 80 cubic meter of space, but pl charged def for their taking up 168 meters. When he went to check the furniture after six months, he saw that it was not nearly as densely packed as he felt it should be. He decided not to have it repacked because of the expense of labor, but after having paid for 6 months of rental, def withheld the final two months with the claim that he was overcharged. Def claims that he relied upon the porters pl recommended, and that when he called to inquire about the high projected price, pl told him that the space was well used. Pl says that def hired the porters, that the space was not so poorly utilized considering that most furniture pieces cannot be stacked high in a warehouse, and that he had invited def to come see for himself if he was happy with the way it was done. Def said that he spoke to pl’s partner, who is a friend of his, and the latter told him not to worry because he would be charged only for the size of his objects, not for the amount of floor space they took.

 

Ruling: Both based on analyzing the numbers and by looking at pictures, it is clear that space was not utilized well enough. Although it is unlikely that all the furniture could have been fit into 80 cubic meters in a warehouse as def claims (it is easier to maximize space in a [lower], closed off truck than in an open, [high-roofed] warehouse). On the other hand, pl is not responsible for the porters’ inefficiency, even if pl recommended them.

Pl did have a responsibility to report to def that he was losing money due to poor stacking based on the mitzva of hashavat aveida, even though pl loses rental money when the wasteful situation is rectified. On the other hand, pl was not required to restack the materials, and we also believe that there are customers who don’t do a better job than the one def’s porters did. In any case, when def was unhappy with the amount of space his items took up and asked for specifics about it, pl certainly had to be accurate so that def could weigh his priorities and decide whether to have it repacked. It does not help pl that they told def to come check for himself because that does not counteract the fact they told him that the situation was okay.

Although pl’s partner should have received permission from the managing partner, if he indeed made a commitment regarding how to measure def’s items, it would have bound pl. However, the partner denied telling def he would not be charged according to the inefficient stacking.

We also consider that even if def had seen the situation, he might not have paid to have it redone, just as he did not do so even after he saw the problem himself (albeit, at that time he knew that he was removing his objects from storage relatively soon). We should also factor in the savings of money for not paying to repack.

Considering all the factors, beit din reduces the rental fee for all 8 months by 12.5%, approximately one quarter of the price difference between what pl charged and the price that likely would have existed had the stacking been efficient.

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