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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5772

P'ninat Mishpat: Aborted Rental part I

(condensed from Hemdat Mishpat, rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case:   The plaintiff (=pl) rented out his apartment on a yearly basis to the defendant (=def) and his family. In the midst of the fourth year of renting, def left the apartment because he got divorced, and the wife and children needed to move close to her parents. Pl was unsuccessful in finding an alternative tenant. Pl claims that def should pay the remaining months of the rental, as the contract states that def must pay until the end of the period even if they leave under oness (extenuating circumstances). Def says he did not read all the conditions of the contract and should not be bound by such an irregular condition. He claims to have had no idea he was going to get divorced during the year.


Ruling:  [The first installment will deal with def’s claim that he should not be bound by the conditions of the contract that he had not read.]

The Rashba, in a few reponsa, deals with the claim of one who said he did not understand part of an agreement to which he ostensibly obligated himself. In one place (V, 228) he rejects such a claim, pointing out that otherwise one could never be held to even a valid agreement.

In contrast, in a responsum (I, 1156) about a bride who signed a document stating that a certain property was not hers, the Rashba writes: “she makes a strong claim when saying that she did not understand or hear the contents of the document, because we all know that a bride is not heedful to what it says in her ketuba.” In another responsum, about a document written in a language that the party did not understand, the Rashba writes that we can assume that he relied on his advisers and obligated himself in whatever is written in the document. In that case, we see that knowing that he does not understand is actually reason to be obligated.

Some say that the Rashba changed his mind. The Knesset Hagedola (CM 147:8) suggests two ways of reconciling the response: 1) One cannot claim ignorance on major clauses, but can deny acceptance of side points. 2) We must decide, based on the person who obligated himself, whether it makes sense that he did not know.

In general, the Shulchan Aruch and Rama (CM 61:13) say that one cannot claim that he was unaware of the document’s contents. However, some claim that in extreme cases, we would say that the one obligating himself did not understand. For example, the Mishneh Halachot (XVII, 98) says that if one signed an arbitration agreement that accepts a ruling even if it is based on an outright mistake, we can assume he did not to agree to such an illogical condition.

In our case, none of the reasons to assume that def did not accept the condition applies. The stipulation in question is at the heart of the matter. A normal renter reads a rental agreement, certainly if he signed it himself. The condition of paying until the end of the rental period is not illogical. Therefore, the stipulation of paying until the end of the rental period even if the renter moves out is valid.

[Next time we will investigate whether the condition is valid under unusual circumstances.]

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