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Shabbat Parashat Tzav 5780

Pninat Mispat: Leaving an Apartment with Electrical Problems

(based on ruling 71041 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendants (=def ) rented an apartment adjoining their landlords, the plaintiffs (=pl), starting from September, and they signed, only in November, a six-month contract for 3,000 shekel a month. At the end of January, def left the apartment and canceled the checks for the last three months. Pl demand that they pay until the end of the rental contract. Def counter that they were allowed to end the rental because of the apartment’s electrical problems, which proved problematic when winter began. Also, the fact that the apartment is an extension of pl’s house causes problems, including that their shared electric grid causes short circuits and that the yishuv does not give def residents’ rights. Pl say that def’s problems were largely due to misuse of the appliances and that an electrician came to explain how to use them. Pl claim that def is leaving because they do not want to live in the yishuv. Pl has been unable to rent out the apartment, claiming that it is because def spoke negatively about it. Def also returned it in disrepair. The full claim is 9,000 shekels for three months of rent and another 3,049 shekels for various expenses related to the apartment and the adjudication.

Ruling: The electrician testified that the rental apartment has use of 60 amperes (more than pl has), which should be enough. If pl uses too much electricity, the electricity in both apartments blows. Beit din reasons that the sharing of an electric box with pl and the inability to remedy a circuit breaker stoppage when pl is not at home are serious flaws. The fact that def lived in the apartment for a few months before leaving it, and even before signing the contract, does not preclude making such a claim. Although usage after discovering a blemish precludes backing out (Rambam, Mechira 15:3; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 232:3), beit din accepts def’s claim that they did not know because pl did not tell them of the joint electric box, and this became clear only when guests tripped the circuit breaker on Shabbat. The fact that pl has not been able to rent out the apartment months after def’s leaving supports the contention that the apartment is more fit for short-term, vacationers’ rentals, for which it used to serve. Regarding the small claims, def admits they were supposed to pay for utilities, and since they did not respond to the details of pl’s claims, we accept pl’s numbers based on beit din’s right to use its discretion. Regarding pl’s claim that the air-conditioner is no longer working properly, by contract this is def’s obligation. We do not accept def’s claim that they received it that way because they used it for several months. Regarding painting the apartment, although def had a right to leave early, they were there long enough for there to be logic for them to paint, and as a compromise they will pay 1,500 shekels toward it. In all, def owes pl 2,682 shekels.
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