Kollel Milhamta Shel Torah of Queens A Spiritual Home for Torah and Tefillah

Past Articles:
EVICTION

By: Rabbi Max Sutton,



THE CASE

Sam rented a private home from David for many years. When Sam fell behind with his monthly payments, David refused to renew his lease and requested of him to find a more affordable property to rent. Sam persisted and refused to vacate, leaving David no alternative but to file for the eviction of his nonpaying tenant. In less than a year’s time, one evening Sam returned home only to find a new lock on the front door and some of his valuables on the sidewalk in front of his home. His neighbors collected some of the more desirable loose items found on the street, assuming Sam willingly threw the stuff away. Sam opened a file at our Bet Din claiming that David had no legal right to remove his private property from the home without informing him, and demanded compensation for his loss. David countered that he was preparing to immediately move new tenants into his fully furnished home and had no alternative but to make available closet space for a paying customer. David added that Sam owes him nearly six months of outstanding rent, and that if money is due, it is strictly to him.

Was David permitted to remove Sam’s private belongings and place them on the sidewalk? Are the neighbors required to return the items they found or are those items considered legally abandoned merchandise? How should the Bet Din rule and why?

TORAH LAW

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch it is permitted to remove merchandise which is illegally being stored on one’s property. Since the owner of the merchandise is aware that he is illegally occupying another’s property, he must bear the consequences of his actions.

Leading halachic authorities dispute whether a property owner is required to give fair warning to an occupant prior to throwing the unwanted merchandise into a public domain. While numerous halachic authorities rule that a property owner is liable for damages unless he first notified the occupant of his intent to dispose of the merchandise, it is the opinion of the Shulhan Aruch that no such notification is required.

 Although a homeowner is entitled to rely on the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch to dispose of any unauthorized merchandise on his property without liability, nevertheless, all opinions agree that it is proper to notify the illegal occupant before acting against him. In our case at hand, multiple eviction notices were sent to the tenant warning him of the clear intent of the homeowner to dispose of the unwanted contents in his home. Hence, according to all halachic authorities the homeowner is absolved of any liability.

By rule of the Shulhan Aruch, unless one finds merchandise in or around a garbage bin which is regularly picked up by the sanitation department, he is not to assume that the merchandise was abandoned by the owner. As a matter of fact, by rule of the Shulhan Aruch, even if one witnesses the tossing of a valuable item by its owner into a public domain, he cannot necessarily assume that the item is abandoned.

While numerous halachic authorities differ with the stringency of this latter ruling, nevertheless, in instances in which an outside party legally disposes of another’s merchandise, all opinions agree that the merchandise is not abandoned. Hence, in our case at hand, in which the landlord removed the tenant’s belongings from his home to the sidewalk, a finder is required to return the belongings to the tenant. As aforementioned, if some of the tenant’s possessions are ultimately lost or stolen, the landlord is not held responsible.

VERDICT

A Tough Break

Our Bet Din ruled in favor of David, the landlord, and absolved him from paying Sam, his tenant, for any lost merchandise. As mentioned in Torah law, since Sam illegally occupied David’s home past the date of eviction, by Torah law, David had the right to remove the belongings from his home. Although Sam’s belongings were placed on the sidewalk, they were over twenty feet away from the closest garbage bin and no excessive damage was done. Furthermore, the eviction notice served as notification and fair warning of David’s intent to remove his tenant’s belongings, and he is thus exempt from liability.

Our decision included clear instructions to all neighbors to return Sam his belongings, since he never willingly abandoned them. It is Sam’s responsibility, not David’s, to attempt to retrieve his belongings from the neighbors. Unfortunately, Sam was unable to retrieve all his possessions, and our Bet Din sympathized with his very difficult situation by calling a well-known charity organization to provide him with financial assistance.

A Cry from Argentina

Jack was a lucky holder of a ticket to the final game of Argentina’s championship soccer match. Due to the contentious rivalry between Argentina’s two best teams, ticket prices were soaring to unfathomable sums. Jack, who purchased his ticket directly from the stadium for a mere $100, resold it to Michael for the whopping sum of $5,000. Unfortunately, due to obsessive behavior of the fans of both teams, a violent riot broke out in front of the stadium prior to game time. Eventually, police were compelled to cancel the game after fans stoned the busload of players of the opposing team arriving to the stadium. As a precautionary measure, the game was rescheduled in the country of Spain, and the ticket holders were reimbursed the face value of the tickets they purchased directly from the stadium. Michael approached Jack and requested of him to provide a complete refund of $5,000 on account of the cancellation. Jack refused, claiming that at the time he sold the ticket is was a valid sale and the subsequent cancellation of the game was Michael’s bad luck. Jack explained that the sale of the ticket is like the sale of any valuable item, and the seller is not responsible for mishaps once the buyer takes possession. Michael was flabbergasted by Jack’s audacity and demanded compensation in full.

Is Jack correct in his analysis? Is Michael entitled to reimbursement for the canceled game? How should the Bet Din rule and why?