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Shabbat Parashat Ha'azinu 5784

P'ninat Mishpat: Arrangements to Deal with Destabilizing Renovations

(based on ruling 82092 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) did renovations, including digging out the basement and removing a wall in his apartment, after which cracks appeared throughout the building. Most of the homeowners (=hmown) hired an engineer who said the building was unsafe, but the municipality and other engineers disagreed. Hmown negotiated with def a plan to return the situation to what existed before construction; an inspector was hired to oversee the work. The plaintiff (=pl), a homeowner who did not sign on to hmown’s agreement with def, demands payment for: (unquantified) damage to the building’s foundation; rent, as work on his apartment needed to be halted due to safety concerns; use of the joint property during excavation. Pl also does not trust the expert, as he is relying on what the contractor reported, so he wants a report by an engineer using a different system and wants progress reports sent directly to him (not through hmown). Def argues that experts have confirmed that, at least after the actions taken, the building is safe and further concerns are unwarranted. He also says that pl can receive information like everyone else in the building.


Ruling: Beit din brought the sides to agreement on the following points: 1. Rent due for pl. 2. Pl will not sue the engineers who approved def’s work. 3. When the work is finished, pl will receive a written assurance from the expert. Hmown will send updates to pl as soon as they receive them. 4. Pl will make future claims only regarding damage that will become known only later. Below are the remaining conflicts and beit din’s decision on them.

It is unclear whether the expert will sign a document ensuring the safety of the structure, as he argues that he is not responsible for all the plans; he just returned things to the level of safety that existed before def’s renovation. Def has a right to rely on the majority of experts who assure there are now no safety issues (see Shach, Choshen Mishpat 46:66). Admittedly, pl does not trust any of them, each one for a reason. However, he has not proven his allegations. If pl knows that one of them took bribes to approve something dangerous, he can report it to the police. In the meantime, def should act to get the broadest possible guarantee from the expert.

Even if the building is not safe, it is unclear that def is responsible to pay for that, as he acted according to the advice of licensed professionals. There is significant discussion as to who needs to pay when a worker does damage to his boss’s neighbor while following his instructions, and a lot depends on the prevalent practice. But in a case where an engineer signed off on plans, if there was negligence in the plans, the engineer has to pay. The compromise should read that def will have to pay for future damage only if beit din finds him responsible to pay.

Def should sign on the agreement that he will not be allowed to take control without permission of any area that is joint property of all the homeowners. Regarding cooperation with the expert, def should sign that he will allow hmown’s expert to visit the premises on a daily basis and send emails to hmown with instructions to the inspector
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