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Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: Renovations that Did Not Finish On Time

(based on ruling 71072 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) hired the defendant (=def) to do renovations for 225,000 shekels. Def was to finish by 26/11/2010 and was to compensate pl at a rate of 5,000 shekels a month for delays, in order to cover pl’s rent during the renovations. Def did not finish on time; pl asked him to stop working and had someone else finish the work. Pl claims to have paid def for almost all the job and has had to pay others (including for expenses during def’s work that def was supposed to cover). Pl also claims 25,000 shekel for the project finishing five months late. Def does not know exactly how late he was but claims it was much less than five months and that the work done at the end did not prevent pl from returning home. Def also claims that the prices pl claimed based on those who finished the job were exaggerated and that pl added building requests of def, not included in the contract, which were not yet paid for.      


Ruling: At first glance, since pl has a specific claim about how late def was and def admits he was late but does not know by how much, def is a modeh b’miktzat (makes a partial admission), who is obligated to pay when he cannot swear on the rest of the claim due to lack of knowledge (Bava Metzia 97b). However, although def admits partially regarding the element of rent compensation, he does not admit that he, overall, owes money to pl because the amount that he claims is due to him for unpaid work exceeds the amount he admits to owe.                                       

In this case, both sides failed in proving their respective cases sufficiently. Pl claimed more payments to def than he has receipts for. Pl’s claim that his neighbor paid the floor layer on pl’s behalf is contradicted by a letter from the neighbor. Pl did not provide documentation, as requested, from the Dekel price list regarding the standard price of work that he gave to others to do. Pl claims to have paid 2,000 shekels for a door, but the price of a standard door, which is all def promised, is 400 shekels. Pl also did not take pictures of the apartment when def stopped working to show what was missing. When one is capable of providing proofs of relevant matters and does not, this is to be held against him (see Bava Metzia 83a). This is particularly relevant regarding rulings that will include compromise.

On the other hand, def did not document the extra work that he did for pl, and pl agrees to only part of those items that def claimed. Since the amount of matters about which there is factual agreement is small, it does not make sense to spend the litigants’ money on an expert to give a price appraisal of these elements.

Since neither side sufficiently corroborated their claims that they are owed more than they owe their counterpart, we will employ the rule of “he who wants to extract money needs to provide proof,” and neither side has to pay the other.

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