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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5781

P'ninat Mishpat: Stopping Rental due to Corona

(based on ruling 80107 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiffs (=pl) rented out an apartment to the defendant (=def), with a detailed contract, for 4,700 NIS per month for a year and renewed it for 4,900 NIS a month for a second year, ending on 31.07.20. Def rented it for his brother to use for his work as a sofer. On 1.4.20, def informed pl that due to reduced sales because of the pandemic, he can no longer justify renting the apartment. Def tried to find a replacement renter but did not succeed. Def paid for April and May and claims to be exempt for June and July because the sides had agreed that two months warning is sufficient and because he was forced to stop renting due to Corona. Pl claim that def is bound to the rental until the end of the contract unless someone takes his place.  


Ruling: The language of the relevant clause in the contract is poorly drafted, but it appears to say that def needs both to give two-months’ notice and also find a replacement renter to pl’s liking. (The fact that the clause says the notice must be in writing is less of an issue, considering that it is a technical consideration to prevent situations in which there is dispute over whether there was notification, and here there is agreement.) Even if def understood that he could cancel the rental with notification alone, that is a “matter of the heart” that is inconsequential (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 207:4).

Par. 25:(13) of the Law of Rental and Borrowing states that a contract that allows the landlord to back out under circumstances in which the renter cannot is not binding. However, that just means that in such cases, the landlord can also not back out, not that the renter can back out. Therefore, the law does not help def’s claim.

The impact of the pandemic will also not help def. There was not a clear stipulation that the apartment was being rented just for def’s brother’s work, and he could have kept the apartment for living quarters as well. Additionally, not all sofrim were affected by Corona to the extent that they suspended their jobs.

The most complicated matter is that of finding a replacement renter. There were initially several people who looked into renting. According to def, the rental fee was too high, and he claimed to have offered to pay some of the rent to pl to make up the difference, but that pl refused.  According to the contract, the replacement renters had to be to pl’s liking. Admittedly, any refusals by pl had to be in good faith and reasonable. Therefore, we must consider the situation. At the time of the din Torah, def’s rental is almost over and pl have still not found renters at the price of 4,900 NIS, so it appears likely that they will have to lower the price. Therefore, based on compromise (see Divrei Malkiel II:133), it appears that while the demand not to change the rental rate was initially reasonable, over time it became unreasonable. Therefore, based on compromise, def has to pay 75% of the rental price and only up to 15.07.20.  

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