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Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim 5782

P'ninat Mishpat: Do Good Wishes End a Rental?

(based on ruling 81085 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) rented an apartment with a contract from the defendant (=def) for 2,200 NIS a month, and the two renewed the rental for an additional year four times, with the last one ending in July 2021. In March 2021, pl informed def that he wanted to look for a bigger apartment, and def wished him well (“b’hatzlacha”) via WhatsApp. In the middle of March, pl left the apartment and returned the keys to def. In May, pl realized that def had cashed rental payments for March and April. Pl asked beit din to put an injunction on def’s further use of rental checks given in advance and for the return of 3,300 NIS for unwarranted rental payments. Def claims that he knew that pl was moving but did not agree to void the contract, and he demands payment until the end of the period or until there is a new tenant (planned for mid May of 2021). Pl also demands reimbursement for 2,000 NIS that he spent on fixing the apartment. Def is willing to reimburse only 250 NIS, claiming that the work done was not professional.

 

Ruling: When an agreement is extended without a new contract, we assume that it is done based on the stated previous conditions (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 333:8). Pl and def’s original contract states that any relinquishing of rights is binding only if it is done in writing. Since the two sent messages to each other about leaving the apartment early via WhatsApp, this is considered in writing. 

After examining the WhatsApp and especially considering that def asked for the keys back, beit din concludes that def agreed to free pl from the rental agreement. Although def claims that his intention was to still receive rent as long as needed, this is a “matter of the heart,” which is not binding (Shulchan Aruch, CM 207:4), and receiving the keys back is considered an action of ending the rental based on the rules of situmta (common practice).

However, to end the financial obligations, the apartment has to be returned in a rentable manner, and since it badly needed a painting (due to mold), which was pl’s contractual obligation, the obligation continues. Since pl did not take care of the painting until into April, def is entitled to rent for the entire month. There is a machloket if the renter deserves a discount when he was not using the property (see Mordechai 345 and K’tzot Hachoshen 316:1). Since the Shulchan Aruch/Rama does not rule on this matter, we will not make def return the rent for this time.

Regarding reimbursing for repairs done, def agrees that pl deserves something, and in general we make the recipient of property improvements pay according to the value added (Shulchan Aruch, 375:1). Because it does not make sense for beit din to have the sides pay for an expert to check this, beit din estimates the improvement at 850 NIS, which is what we require def to reimburse pl.  

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