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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Who Is Responsible for Municipal Tax When? part I

(based on ruling 74018 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) is an organization that rented property from Aug. 2004, with renewed contracts, until July 2010. In July 2008, the defendant (=def), another organization, sublet the property until the end of pl’s contract in 2010. Subsequently, def rented the property from the owner independently without a contract. In July 2011, def signed a contract but the arnona (municipal tax) account was still in pl’s name until Jan. 2012. The entire time, arnona was not paid, which caused a huge debt (974,632 shekels from Jan. 2007-Jan. 2012) which included inflation adjustments and interest. The lawyer pl hired to negotiate a payment plan with reduced penalties and tax breaks for their being NPOs, lowered the debt to 700,000, and arnona going forward was lowered due to def’s NPO work. Pl and def, which both benefitted from his work, disagree how to split up his 60,000 shekel fee. Pl wants it and the balance of the arnona debt to be paid according to the amount of time each used the property, i.e., pl­ – Jan. 2007-June 2008 (period A) = 30%; def – July 2008-Jan. 2012 = 70%.) They argue that the fact that def preferred to keep things in pl’s name (contract, arnona account) should not harm pl. Def is willing to pay in full from July 2010 to July 2011 (period C) because they were full renters at that point. However, regarding the time they were sub-letters (period B), they should pay only according to the rate they are paying now because it was pl’s obligation to transfer the account to def, who could have received a bargain price. So too, in period D, when there was a contract between def and the owners, pl could have removed themselves without def’s help and the fact that pl was charged at a high rate was their own problem.

 

Ruling: The first question is who is the principle body obligated in arnona – the one in whose name the property is (i.e., pl) or the one who actually uses it (i.e., def). According to par. 326 of the Rules of Municipalities, once there is a transfer, including renting, the parties are supposed to inform the municipality and until they do, the previous possessor is responsible for payment. The implication is that pl’s being held responsible is procedural, but in essence, the one who is using the property and is thus benefitting from municipal services, is obligated. Thus, def is primarily responsible for period B-D. This is strengthened by the fact that def signed a memorandum in July 2008 accepting upon themselves payment of arnona.  

Def agrees to being obligated in the base arnona but claim that they deserve to benefit retroactively from the eventual reduction in payment. We do not accept this argument. Def agreed to have pl in charge of working out the payment of arnona while def did not have a contract and were aware of what pl had and had not achieved. They, thus, knew what they would be paying and agreed to it with their silence.

Next week we will deal with other possible reasons to reduce def’s obligation.

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