Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora| 5770
P’ninat Mishpat: Early Exit of a Renter
(condensed from p’sak of Beit Din Gazit of Nof Ayalon)
Case: The plaintiff (=pl) rented an apartment to the defendant (=def) and later extended the rental for about a year. The two agreed that def could leave early and end the contract, but they differ if that was conditional on pl finding a renter to take over. Def left the apartment on Feb. 17, and pl did not have a renter until April 1. The contract said that at the end of the rental, def had to return the apartment freshly painted, which def did not do. He responds with a complaint that before he left, pl spent six days doing renovations in the apartment. He, therefore, wants a reduction in the rental, is claiming damages (1,000 shekels) that the renovations caused to his property, and wants to be excused from painting the apartment. Regarding leaving the apartment early, def claims that since no penalty payment is specified for leaving early, it is clear that he is not precluded by the contract from doing so.
Ruling: When a rental contract has an end time for the rental, then there is a mutual obligation between the sides, unless waived by one side. The landlord may not evict the tenant before that time, and the tenant is required to ensure that the landlord is paid until that time. The landlord is not required to stipulate how much the tenant has to pay if he leaves early, and he is obligated in the full amount of the rental unless specified otherwise. Although def claims there was an understanding that he could leave early at his discretion, it is his obligation to prove this, as it is against the language of the contract and against the standard practice.
During the period of rental, pl was not allowed to do renovations to the apartment, and, therefore, he is exempt from payment of those days’ rental fee. However, this does signify the end of the rental period as a whole. Despite this grievance, def is also not exempt from painting the apartment, which could have been done afterward. Although def does not automatically have to reimburse the full price that pl spent on a painter, since the sum charged by the painter that pl hired was reasonable, he should pay it in full.
Def has to prove that pl’s workers damaged def’s property. However, since there is a partial admission that there was some damage and beit din was authorized to rule based on compromise, 300 shekels is a reasonable amount to charge, by reducing it from the payment that def owes pl.
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