What items in a home is a landlord Halachically obligated to fix, if they
have broken during the rental period?
A. Before someone rents a home to his friend, he is obligated to fix up
any items that are usually fixed by skilled workmen. These include any
doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, water pipes, and electrical outlets
that are not working properly. He is also obligated to fix anything else
that is customarily in working order when moving into a rental property.
If the railings on the porch or roof that is used as living space are not
as high as required by Halacha (Ma'akah), the landlord is obligated to
bear the expense of raising them to the required height. However, Mezuzos
must be put up by the tenant at his own expense.
B. The obligation of a landlord to fix the above mentioned items exists
even if the tenant was aware of these problems before agreeing to rent
and did not comment on them. However, if the landlord explicitly
stipulated that he is renting the property on the condition that he does
not have to fix these items, he has no obligation to do so.
C. If the property was in perfect condition before the tenant moved in,
and the problems occurred during the rental period, the liability of the
landlord is dependant on the cause:
1. If the problem was caused by an outside factor, e.g. vandals threw a
rock that broke a window on the rental property, or a blockage was
accidentally caused in the pipes by a child flushing a washcloth, the
landlord does not have to fix this. However, neither does the tenant, and
if he wishes he may return the property to the owner in this condition.
2. If the breakage was caused by normal use, e.g. pipes started leaking,
or the water boiler broke, and it is likely that these things could
happen after the amount of time that they have been in operation, the
landlord would be obligated to fix them.
3. If the items should not have broken during normal usage, and it just
"happened" to break for some unknown reason, or if it is determined that
the tenant improperly operated any of the items in the home, and this may
have been a contributing factor to the breakage, the landlord would have
no obligation to fix them.
The Gemara in Bava Kamma (99b) states that a worker who is considered to
be an expert in his field who unintentionally causes financial damage on
the job to the person that hired him, must pay for that damage, if he is
being paid. This is because he is considered a Shomer Sochor (a paid
watchman), who is liable for any damage caused by him. If he is not being
paid for his work, he is considered a Shomer Chinnom (unpaid watchman),
and can not be held liable for damages caused by him, unless he was
negligent. This is stated as the Halacha in the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen
In the case discussed in Question B, it is clear from the Gemara in Bava
Metzia (81a), and in the Teshuvos Maharam (quoted in the Mordechai in
Bava Metzia, Siman 359), that the messenger (Shimon) must be considered a
paid worker, even for transporting the diamond to the exchange. Since he
is planning on benefitting from Reuven by making a percentage of the sale
of his diamond, we consider transporting the diamond to be part of the
transaction that Reuven will pay him for. To retain the lesser liability
of a Shomer Chinnom, the watchman must be doing the owner a favor, and
not have his own interest in mind at all (as discussed below). In our
case, Shimon's transporting the diamond is clearly in his own interest,
and therefore he has the liability of a Shomer Sochor.
Therefore, although it is true that if Shimon would not find any buyers
for the diamond he would receive no payment at all, the fact that there
is the possibility that he will receive payment qualifies him as someone
working for money, who has the liability of a Shomer Sochor.
This is why the Rema (Choshen Mishpat 306:4) states that a Shochet
(slaughterer) who receives payment only for animals that he slaughters
that are found to be Kosher, is considered a paid worker on all of the
animals. Consequently, if he unintentionally causes one of the animals to
be non-Kosher, he must compensate the owner, even though he receives no
payment for slaughtering non-Kosher animals. This is also discussed there
in the SM"A (14).
However, regarding the money exchanger discussed in Question A, the
Ketzos HaChoshen (227:11) quotes the Teshuvos Tashbatz (Vol. 2, Siman
174) that he can not be held liable for his mistake. Even if he would
have advised Reuven correctly, that the bills were actually counterfeit,
he would have received no payment for his service. He only receives
payment when the bills are authentic. Therefore, according to the
presently known reality, Shimon was an unpaid expert worker, since there
was no possibility that he would get paid for his advice, either it would
be correct and he would not get paid, or it would be incorrect and he
certainly would not be deserving of payment. Consequently, as long as he
caused the loss unintentionally and not at all through negligence, he can
not be held liable.The Mishna and Gemara in Bava Metzia (101b) state that a landlord is
obligated to fix up any items usually fixed by skilled craftsmen on
rental property before a tenant occupies it. This is true even if the
tenant is handy and could fix these thing up by himself. This is stated
as the Halacha in the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 314).
The Rema there (1) adds that even if the tenant was aware of these
problems before agreeing to rent and did not complain about them, this is
not to be considered as if he is forgoing his right to have these items
fixed. Rather, he assumed that the landlord would certainly take care of
these things, and there was no need to point them out. However, if the
landlord explicitly stated that he has no intention of fixing these
things and the tenant agreed to rent it anyway, he can not come back and
try to obligate the landlord to fix them.
Although the Gemara and Shulchan Oruch there indicate that the tenant is
responsible for Mezuza and Ma'akah, since they are Mitzvos that are
incumbent on the person living there, not necessarily the property owner,
the Rema there (2) states that we must go after whatever is customary in
present day society. Today it is customary for building contractors and
landlords to provide railings of the proper height, and to install light
fixtures and electrical sockets in every room, even if not stated
explicitly in the contract. However, it is not customary to provide the
Mezuzas, so this remains the tenant's obligation, as stated there in the
This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av
Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
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presence of all parties involved!