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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel 5779

P'ninat Mishpat: Mold Damage to a Rented Apartment

(based on ruling 77072 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendants (=def) rented out an unfurnished apartment to the plaintiffs (=pl) for around a year. Pl left after paying all bills. During the winter, pl suffered through significant mold, which they claim made one of the rooms unlivable, and caused pl’s beds and mattresses to need to be thrown out. Pl is suing for the damage of their property and to retroactively reduce their rent based on the value of the unusable room relative to the apartment. Soon after the mold began, pl complained to def, who sent experts to solve the problem. The first expert recommended airing out the apartment regularly. When pl continued to complain (it is unclear if they aired out thoroughly), a second expert recommended doing insulation work, which def refused to do since pl was the first tenant to complain. (It turns out that previous tenants experienced significant mold but decided not to complain.) Def claim that they are not responsible for indirect damage, which pl could have avoided with additional ventilation and also demand that pl pay 4,500 shekels to paint the apartment upon leaving in the special way needed to remove mold.


Ruling: [The following is the opinion of the majority of the panel.]   

The rental contract requires def to fix everything in the apartment that needs fixing. Extreme mold is under that category. Since the previous tenants report they had experienced significant mold, it is unreasonable to blame pl for insufficient ventilation. While the experts did not say emphatically that more insulation was the solution, it is clear that def had to figure out something to solve the problem. Def also did not instruct pl from the outset that they needed an unusual amount of opening windows. 

Since pl is not to be blamed for the mold, they are required to pay only the price of normal painting (1,000 shekels). While the damage to pl’s property was indirect, when one rents an apartment, he assures the renter that he has a safe place for his property, and when one makes a promise that he does not live up to, there is a financial obligation based on histamchut (reliance). Even if def failed in this regard without fault (because previous tenants had not informed him), he still is guilty of damage without intention. While it is only damage by gerama (indirect), which one cannot force such a damager to pay, our beit din arbitration agreement enables us to obligate him. Therefore, we are obligating def for damages that occurred from the time the second expert gave his unheeded instructions. Although usually a person who is damaged over time should make efforts to avoid damage, pl explained why it was difficult to do so.

Regarding reducing rent for not using one room, there is a machloket whether one who did not demand an end to a rental due to flaws is entitled to a reduction in rent. Since pl had a right to demand that the problem be fixed, we will give them a rental discount up to the cost (500 shekels) of special painting, which could have been carried out to alleviate the problem.

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