What Are You Going To Do, If You Don’t Know What To Do?

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Jonathan is the owner of a property management company. His operating agreement with numerous landlords included, among other provisions, the handling of regular maintenance and emergency repairs. One property, an office building in the city, was experiencing problems with their commercial air conditioning system. The landlord contacted Jonathan to repair the system, assuring him that he is prepared to pay the bill for repairs as stipulated in the operating agreement. Jonathan’s professional staff began the job immediately, and for the next two weeks they changed multiple parts though they were unable to fix the system. Finally, they detected a relatively small issue which they easily corrected, and the air conditioning was restored. In Bet Din, Jonathan claimed a sum of $3,750, explaining that his price is relatively cheap considering that some of the workers charged him nearly $70 per hour. The landlord refused to pay what he considered to be an exorbitant sum, explaining that he is not required to pay for labor or parts that were not necessary for the repair. Jonathan defended that his workers acted in a standard manner and methodically conducted their job of repairs.

Is Jonathan entitled to collect $3,750 from the landlord? Perhaps the landlord is correct and is only required to pay a nominal fee? How should the Bet Din rule and why?


According to the ruling of theShulhan Aruch a paid watchman is entitled to his wages in the event the item was lost due do circumstances beyond his control. If the watchman is prepared to take an oath that he did the job as prescribed, he is entitled to collect his wages from his employer. It stands to reason that the same is applicable to any employee that labors in compliance with standard procedure. Hence, a technician who methodically repairs an air conditioner in accordance with standard procedure may collect his wages for the entire duration of the job. Although many hours of labor were invested and lost in testing and repairing seemingly unnecessary parts, nevertheless, the technician is entitled to his wages for doing his job as ordered.

Additionally, even if no standard procedure exists as to how to repair, providing that the technician was not grossly negligent by skipping a simple step of the process, he is entitled to his wages in full. Since he was hired to fix the problem and he did so successfully, the duration and subsequent cost of the job is viewed as the mazal of the landlord.

By rule of the Shulhan Aruch, when a homeowner provides entry to a worker with explicit instruction to change faulty parts of an air conditioner, the worker is entitled to collect for his financial investment. Although it is possible that some of the parts were not required to be changed, nevertheless, the worker enhanced the overall value of the machinery and is entitled to compensation. This ruling is particularly true if the worker only changed the parts in order to detect the problem by process of elimination. While in hindsight parts were not required to be changed, nevertheless, the overall value of the old air conditioning system was significantly appreciated.

Interestingly, even if a worker fails to complete the repair, according to some halachic authorities he is entitled to a comprised sum of money for his services. Others disagree, and rule that only if the worker successfully completes the job, is he entitled to payment. Since this ruling is a point of contention, it is subject to what is customarily practiced in each specific industry.

A Bet Din will often confer with a third party in the same industry to determine whether a technician or the like was negligent when providing services. However, in the absence of an educated claim, a Bet Din will immediately dismiss the case without consulting with an outside party. It is viewed as unacceptable for an uneducated party to withhold payment of a technician based on his mere speculation.


Cool Down

Our Bet Din ruled in favor of Jonathan and instructed the landlord to pay in full for his services. As mentioned in Torah law, Jonathan successfully completed his job as ordered, and is not responsible for the duration and costs required. Although in hindsight many of the hours of labor were seemingly unnecessary, nevertheless, Jonathan is claiming to have acted in compliance with standard procedure. Unless it can be proven by the landlord that Jonathan grossly overlooked a quick solution to the problem, the landlord is required to pay in full for Jonathan’s services. Additionally, the landlord provided entry to the property and consented to the change of faulty parts. Once again, although in hindsight many parts seemingly did not need to be changed, nevertheless, the overall value of the air conditioner was enhanced by the new parts. By law, after providing entry, the landlord is required to compensate Jonathan for enhancing his machinery. This is particularly true in our case since the parts were only changed in order to detect the problem by process of elimination.

Furthermore, it was apparent to our Bet Din that the landlord’s claim was baseless, as he was merely speculating that Jonathan was negligent and overlooked a simple solution. The landlord brought no evidence whatsoever to support his view, and we consequently dismissed his uneducated claim without conferring with a third party in the same industry. It is not the role of a Bet Din to formulate a claim on behalf of one of the litigants.