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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: Valid Excuses to Not Pay Rent?

(based on ruling 79135 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) rented out his apartment to the defendant (=def) for twelve months for 3,400 NIS a month. Def provided pl with 12 post-dated checks – 6 were cashed, and 6 were either cancelled by def or not honored due to insufficient funds. Pl demands payment (20,400 NIS) with interest for late payment. Def counters that they have the right to withhold most of the money for the following matters: 1. Def did a few fixing jobs for the apartment instead of pl paying for them (1,500 NIS). 2. Def paid for arnona (municipal tax), electricity, and water for other tenants in pl’s complex of apartments (5,800 NIS). 3. Pl asked def to do work for pl’s friend with the promise that pl would pay def for it, which he did not (1,600 NIS). 4. Def paid in cash for one of the checks that bounced. Pl responds (by item): 1. He is unaware that these were done, and if yes, he should have been notified. 2. It is not def’s place to pay other people’s bills and charge pl, even if he did prove he paid (which pl denies). 3. Def did 300 NIS worth of work, and was paid the full sum. 4. Def paid nothing in cash.


Ruling: It is an agreed and verifiable fact that there was a rental with a valid contract, based on which there are grounds for full payment. The basic halacha is that a renter after the rent has already been due is believed to say that he paid the rent (Bava Metzia 102b). The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 317:1) adds that this is so even if there is a valid rental agreement. In this case, though, def is not believed to make this claim because: A. The checks serve as a means of guaranteeing rental payment, so that were one to pay for a month’s rental in a different way, he is to demand back the corresponding check. B. The giving of a check is viewed as giving the landlord who holds the check the standing of one who is to be believed over the claim of payment (see Chiddushei R. Chaim, Shvuot 41a). This is augmented by the law of the land regarding using checks to force payment (see Tumim 69:8).  

Once the payment is viewed as a definite obligation, we view the counterclaims to get out of it as a new demand for payment. Def’s claims of expenses are definite claims (bari) versus pl’s claim of “maybe” (shema), but this is insufficient to award money to def (Shulchan Aruch, CM 75:9). There is no basis for compromise based on “redeeming” the obligation to make an oath because def did not claim that pl was aware of the work. This is augmented by the fact that def is supposed to inform pl and allow him to take care of it as he chooses (responsibly).

Regarding the claim of how much pl owed def for the work he did for a friend and whether he paid, there is a basis for a Rabbinic oath (of kofer hakol) and therefore for compromise. The majority of dayanim did not want to grant partial payment because def brought up the claim at a late stage in the process, which weakens its credibility.

The payments def might have made on behalf of other tenants is irrelevant toward pl. These would have been other people’s obligation, and it is not deductible from payment to pl. 

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