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Shabbat Parashat Yitro 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Too Late to Renew Rental? part I

(based on ruling 72079 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) rented out his apartment to the defendant (=def), a mother with three older children for a year, ending on Aug. 3, 2012. Def could renew the rental for a second year if she informed pl by May 5, 2012. Not until pl requested at the end of May that she vacate at year’s end, did def write such a request. Earlier in May, def and pl met in the apartment. Def claims that at that time they orally agreed to renew; pl denies this. Pl also claims the right to end the rental because def’s children’s behavior upset all the neighbors and def refused to pay July’s rent up to and including the beit din hearing (early August). Def claimed she had trouble finding rent money because of legal expenses due to pl’s suit. Pl’s claims are: immediate vacation of the property (as most rentals are set by early Aug.); payment of July rent; $3,000 penalty for breach of contract as specified in the contract. [Reuven, who accompanied def to beit din, suggested a compromise, that def would remain for an additional four months. Pl accepted it; def did not.]

 

Ruling: There are two possible tracks to justify pl ending def’s rental before a full two years: lack of proper renewal; breach of contract.

Regarding renewal of the rental, the contract requires it to be done in writing. The usual logic is that claims of oral agreement are hard to disprove. Therefore, the burden of proof of agreement is on def. Significant circumstantial evidence also points in that direction. All agree that there was a meeting in May. Pl’s characterization is that he waited until the time of renewal passed because he wanted to end the rental due to complaints. This fits with accounts and evidence presented. Def’s claim of a pleasant meeting to confirm renewal is contradicted by her own complaint (elsewhere in her presentation) that the meeting was preceded by an SMS by pl to her with a threatening tone.

On the other hand, the reason for the demand for prior notification of renewal is not usually intended to catch the renter in neglecting to renew, but to give the landlord opportunity to plan. Therefore, there is tension between fulfillment of the contract’s written word (which supports pl) and the apparent logic behind it.

The matter of breach of contract contains a couple of parts. Pl presented letters from neighbors with complaints about def’s children’s behavior. However, he did not prove that the behavior reached the level that justifies abrogation of a rental contract. Def admitted to having withheld July rent, which is a serious breach of a rental agreement and is grounds for removal according to par. 12 of pl’s and def’s contract. The claim that she did not have money because of legal fees is difficult to accept. Def’s only use of a lawyer was to write a single letter in response to the suit, and that costs a fraction of the rent due. Rather, as Reuven admitted, the withholding was an attempt to pressure pl to allow her to stay. That is not a legitimate step to take, and thus pl can compel def to end the rental.

[Next time, we will discuss practical remedies for this situation.]
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