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DOUBLE RENT?

By: Rabbi Max Sutton



David and Shirley began construction on their home, and needed to rent another property for an estimated twelve months while the work on their home was being completed. The couple signed a one-year contract with Isaac for the rental of his property and, as stipulated by contract, they paid Isaac in full upfront, $5,000 per month, for a total of $60,000. Much to their delight, their new home was ready way ahead of schedule and they were prepared to move in only nine months later. The couple reached out to Isaac seeking to collect three months of prepaid rent, a total of $15,000. Isaac rejected their request. Additionally, Isaac reminded them that, by contract, they were restricted from subletting the apartment to another party.

David and Shirley vacated Isaac’s property after nine months. Less than two months later, they discovered that Isaac had newly rented out the property. The couple immediately summonsed Isaac to Bet Din claiming that the rental proceeds collected from the new tenant should be paid to them. They claimed that Isaac had no right to rent the property, let alone collect double rent for the duration of their contract.

Isaac defended that he was unwilling to leave his home vacant for an extended period and since David and Shirley had no legal right to sublet, he was entitled to rent the property and collect the additional revenue. He reminded all present that it stated explicitly in the lease: “The tenant will not be refunded the prepaid sum of rent in the event they breach their contract or vacate the premises.”

How should the Bet Din rule – in favor of Isaac, or in favor of David and Shirley – and why?

TORAH LAW

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, a tenant is required to pay his landlord all of the rental payments for the term stipulated in their contract. Even if a tenant chooses to vacate the premises because of a sudden turn of events, he is nevertheless bound to his contractual obligation. In instances in which a property is vacated because of a tenant’s death, the above ruling is not applicable. In such instances, a competent halachic authority must be contacted for counsel.

As a general rule, a tenant is restricted from subletting a property unless his contract stipulates clearly that he maintains the legal right to do so. In the event that a contract explicitly restricts a subletting arrangement without the consent of the landlord, a tenant can be subject to additional fees if he chooses to sublet regardless. 

In instances in which a tenant vacates a property prematurely and an extended period of time remains on his lease, a Bet Din will consider the complaint of a landlord seeking to occupy his property. Leading halachic authorities explain that a vacant property is susceptible to damages due to the lack of supervision, and thus, in certain instances, a Bet Din will enable a landlord to rent his property to another tenant.

In the event that a tenant vacates a property and the landlord rents it out to another party for the duration of the original tenant’s lease, the original tenant is absolved from paying the balance of his contract. Since the original tenant owns the usage of the property for the term of his contract, the landlord may not transfer that right to another. If he chooses to do so he must deduct the newly generated income from the balance of original tenant’s obligation. In short, according to Torah law, a landlord is restricted from collecting double rent.

Nevertheless a few halachic authorities rule that in the event that a tenant prepays his rent and moves out before the end of his term, a landlord is entitled to collect double rent. The rationale behind this ruling is that any time a tenant prepays his rent, he relinquishes all claims of recollection. Hence, in the event he vacates the property, and is restricted from subletting it, his landlord automatically reassumes possession. If, the landlord then rents out the property to another he is entitled to double rent. If the prepaying tenant wished otherwise, he should have carefully protected his rights before advancing funds to his landlord.

Although this opinion is not the consensus of the majority
and not commonly practiced, in instances in which the landlord already possesses the double rent, he can arguably rely on the minority opinion.

By law, it is the responsibility of the tenant to return the property in good condition. Many contracts require a tenant to paint the premises prior to his vacating. If a tenant ignores his obligation, a Bet Din will enforce a landlord’s rights.

VERDICT

Tenant Rights

Our Bet Din awarded David and Shirley with the outstanding two months’ rent, which was to be paid directly to them by the new tenant. As mentioned in Torah law, since David and Shirley owned the usage of the property for the duration of their lease, all proceeds generated from the property was rightfully theirs. This ruling restricting a landlord from collecting double rent is the consensus of the majority and commonly practiced.

Nevertheless, according to a few opposing halachic authorities, since the couple prepaid their rent and were restricted from subletting, they enabled Isaac to reassume possession of his property. According to this minority opinion, Isaac is entitled to the double rent he collected in this case.

Also a factor was Isaac’s claim that David and Shirley did not return the property in the same good condition they received it in. He said he spent nearly $2,500 to restore the premises. David and Shirley admitted that they neglected the repairs they were obligated to do by contract, explaining that they simply did not have time to tend to them. Because of these last two considerations, our Bet Din allowed Isaac to keep the one-month rent he already collected, while David and Shirley were awarded the two months outstanding rent.