The Case – Under Attack

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2049

Joe rented out his luxurious beachfront villa in Ashdod to Sam for the duration of three weeks, commencing with the first day of Sukkot. The total cost of the rental for the three-week period was $10,000. Upon payment in full, Joe provided Sam with the keys to the Ashdod villa. With the barbaric attack of the Hamas terrorist group on the eighth day of the holiday, the city of Ashdod was subject to multiple missile attacks for the duration of the short-term rental. As such, within a few days of the attack, Sam evacuated the villa and traveled with his family back to Los Angelas. Prior to his departure he messaged Joe that he expects a refund in the amount of $6,666 dollars on account of the war. A Bet Din session was conducted via zoom, and while both parties apologized to our staff for disputing the matter during this tragic crisis, they both expressed that they were not wealthy people and needed the money to help their children. Joe, the homeowner, explained that since the rent was already collected in full, the ramifications of the war are the misfortune of Sam, the tenant. Sam countered that his vacation turned into a traumatic nightmare as he and his family spent all day in and out of the home’s bomb shelter with sirens and explosions sounding off overhead.  

Is Sam entitled to a refund? Can Joe withhold the funds once collected? How should the Bet Din rule and why? 

 

Torah Law 

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, a property rental agreement is binding when either the tenant signs a contract, occupies the premises, or prepays the rent. Once an agreement is binding the tenant is required to comply with all the terms and conditions stipulated for the duration of the lease. Financial setbacks or other troublesome events do not absolve a tenant from paying rent as per his contractual agreement. 

Leading halachic authorities debate the liability of a tenant who suffers from a personal occurrence beyond his control, preventing him from physically dwelling on the property. In the instance of a tenant’s death, some halachic authorities require the heirs of the tenant’s estate to continue paying rent for the duration of the contract. Other opinions absolve the heirs of an estate from paying rent once the tenant has deceased.  

Additionally, while it is the opinion of the Shulhan Aruch that when a rented home collapses the tenant is entitled to a full refund of any future rent that was prepaid, some early halachic authorities differ. The latter opinion’s underlying reasoning is that once rent is prepaid, a tenant is technically viewed as an owner and must bear the brunt of the calamity. Even according to this dissenting view to that of the Shulhan Aruch, if the tenant did not yet pay, the landlord cannot collect rent for the time after the home collapsed. This latter ruling is limited to instances in which the calamity or disaster happened to private property. 

The above-mentioned laws are applicable to all instances other than extenuating circumstances caused by a national disaster such as war or the like. Thus, by rule of all halachic authorities, if due to a national disaster a tenant is prevented from residing on the premises, he is absolved from his contractual obligation. Hence, if on account of war, plague, or pandemic, a tenant is forced to relocate, the tenant is entitled to breach his contract. In short, the need to flee from a property, or a legal restriction imposed by the government from dwelling on a property, are grounds to relieve a tenant from his contractual liability.  

The underlying reasoning for the above-mentioned ruling is that a national disaster is viewed as a misfortune to the property owners of the city as opposed to the tenants. Since the landlords own the property and are in the position of authority, they are required to bear the loss in time of war or pandemic.  

A Bet Din will evaluate the status of a city prior to determining whether it is unlivable. In the war at hand, the Southern cities of Israel like Ashdod were subject to a barrage of missiles on a regular basis. For at least the first number of weeks these cities suffered with ten to fifteen sirens sounding daily. Each siren caused the residents of the city to leave their homes and take shelter in a designated bomb shelter, or to shelter in their homes if they had a “safe room,” which has a specially reinforced metal door and heavy metal window shutters. At times, these cities were instructed by the government to take shelter until further notification. Such a national disaster is viewed as the misfortune of the landlord who is required to return the prepaid rent. 

 

VERDICT: Better Times Will Come 

Our Bet Din ruled in favor of Joe, the tenant, as we instructed Sam to refund him with the prepaid rent. As detailed in Torah law, in the instance of a national disaster in which a tenant cannot reside in a home without spending many of the hours of the day and night in an underground bomb shelter, the tenant is entitled to a refund. This is especially true with regard to a short-term luxury vacation rental. According to Torah law, a national disaster is viewed as the misfortune of the property owner.  

Sam, the landlord, expressed that he already spent the entire sum he collected from Joe, and that he simply does not have enough money to reimburse him. Our Bet Din requested Joe to allow Sam to keep a third of the money owed and serve as a credit to be used in the future. Joe agreed to the arrangement and Sam began paying him the balance in monthly installments.  

In Loving Memory of Vera Bat Carol, A”H 

YOU BE THE JUDGE 

 

 Cease and Desist 

An affluent Jewish congregation in the Tri-State area entered into a contractual agreement with Harold to construct a community center in the heart of their neighborhood. The complex was to include a synagogue, social hall, mikveh, and workout room. Harold hired out subcontractors for each of the different features of the project. The mikveh complex was subcontracted to Maurice, who was entrusted with the project based on his impressive résumé.  But after the mikveh was completed, a bitter monetary dispute raged between Harold and Maurice regarding the total cost of the mikveh project. The two appeared in Bet Din to resolve the complicated matter, in which Maurice claimed he was owed a substantial amount of money and thus requested a “cease and desist” order, preventing use of the mikveh by the public until he was paid in full. He pointed out that the mikveh was built using his raw materials and his workers, and until he received the full payment, the mikveh should be forbidden to use. Maurice further noted that forbidding the use of the mikveh could also be beneficial to Harold in giving him leverage to recoup some of the additional expenses he had incurred from the congregation that hired him. Additionally, he claimed that since the local neighborhood maintained an operating mikveh in the area, preventing use of the new mikveh would not stop people from observing this important mitzvah. 

Harold responded that while it is likely that he owed Maurice a minimal amount, he was by no means willing to make any further payments until their dispute was resolved. In addition, Harold felt it would be preposterous to punish the congregation until he makes whatever payment is required, given the small amount entailed.  

How should the Bet Din rule? Does Maurice have a valid claim? Should the Bet Din prevent the opening of the mikveh until the matter is resolved?