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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5778

P'ninat Mishpat: Backing Out of a Rental for an Excellent Reason part II

(based on ruling 73045 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def), who was engaged, with a wedding scheduled for 13.01.13, signed a rental contract with the plaintiff (=pl) for a year at 1,900 shekels a month, starting from 01.01.13. The two sides were to meet to arrange an early transfer of control on 15.12.12, but a few hours before the meeting, def’s engagement was broken. Def informed pl that he would not be taking the apartment. Def was not involved in finding a replacement renter. Pl finally found one as of 01.03.13 for 2,100 shekels a month. Pl is suing for payment of rent until the time the new renter receives the apartment. Def feels that he is exempt, as clearly no one who rents an apartment to live in with his wife is willing to pay if he is not getting married.   


Ruling: [Last time we saw some of the factors that determine when one can back out of a transaction under changing circumstances. We concluded that neither the renter nor the landlord would agree to a condition to lose rental money if def’s engagement would be broken and that, therefore, def had responsibility to pay at least toward the lost rent. We continue with other elements of the case.]  

Def wants to lessen the amount that he has to pay, with the claim that had he known that pl was having trouble renting the apartment out, he would have gotten a friend to rent it at a low price. We do not accept this claim because def did not make an effort to find out what was happening with the apartment and whether he could help out to lessen the losses.

On the other hand, def does not have to pay for the full time that the apartment went unrented. First, if the issue of what to do in the case of a broken agreement would have been negotiated, it is highly likely that a cap would have been put on the renter’s exposure to risk. Indeed many contracts allow the sides to back out of the rental with a couple months of notice. Second, the original rental was supposed to be from the beginning of January, just that def requested to make it earlier so that he could prepare better. Now that he has no need for the apartment, it makes sense to return to the original agreement, at least on the grounds of compromise.

Therefore, the total charge should have been for 2 months at 1,900 shekels, for a total of 3,800 shekels. However, pl’s loss was actually less than that because the new renter is paying an additional 200 shekels over what def would have paid. Since the new renter is paying the additional amount for 5 months, 1,000 shekels should be reduced, making the amount due 2,800 shekels.

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