Responsibility for Damage to Renters Objects
BS”D, 3 Adar II
March 13, 2016
Psak Din- responsibility for damage to renter objects
In the claim between:
The Plaintiff: (below, “the plaintiff”),
The Defendants: (below, “defendant N”), and her husband (below, “defendant J”)
A. Facts that are agreed upon between the two sides:
In April, 2013, the plaintiff sublet the apartment he was renting to defendant N. The apartment was full of the plaintiff’s furniture and other items, and those things were to stay in the apartment with defendant N. In August, 2014, defendant N informed the plaintiff that she would be moving to Yerushalayim, and the plaintiff arranged for the contents of the apartment to be moved into defendant N’s new apartment. In June, 2015, defendant N was ill and had to leave her apartment. She left at the end of June, and defendant J arranged for the plaintiff’s belongings to be moved to storage. Neither she nor defendant J told the plaintiff of the move until July.
For personal reasons, defendant N chose to not appear in person in the Beit Din, but instead gave power of attorney to defendant J to represent her (in addition to representing himself). Both sides agreed to this arrangement, and they also agreed to present the case before a single dayan, Rav Yosef Carmel.
B. Claims of the Plaintiff:
When the apartment was sublet to defendant N in April, 2013, she accepted responsibility for all items in the apartment. At that time, the items were in very good, like new condition. The total value of the items she accepted responsibility for was approximately 19,928 shekels. In the contract between her and the the plaintiff, defendant N agreed to give a months warning before leaving the apartment. Defendant N should have had the the plaintiff’s contact information, and, even if she didn’t, it could have been found very easily online. Therefore, her lack of warning before the move in June, 2015 was negligent, and she is responsible for damage to the items that happened as a result of that. Furthermore, defendant J was negligent in his treatment of the items, he did not investigate the price and quality of different storage facilities, and he too is responsible for the damage that was caused as a result of his negligence. The total amount that the plaintiff is claiming, which includes the value of the items and moving and storage costs,(less than the total amount of damage according to his estimate) is 18,400 shekels.
C. Claims of the defendants:
When defendant N sublet the apartment in April, 2013, she only accepted responsibility for a specific number of items. At that time, many of those items were in poor condition, some were not functional at all. According to her approximation, the total value of the items she accepted responsibility for, at the time that she accepted responsibility, was 2,765 shekels. Defendant N also approximates that the items went down in value 770 shekels while she was responsible for them. The damage that caused those items to decrease in value was either the result of factors that were beyond her control or was the result of normal usage. Although the defendants don’t agree that there was damage for which they would be responsible, even if there was, the plaintiff already received compensation from the 2,500 shekel payment from Nachman. Defendant N wanted to contact the the plaintiff before leaving the apartment in June, 2015, but she was unable to find their contact information due to factors beyond her control, and even when she tried contacting them, it was difficult to reach them. Defendant J did everything that could reasonably be expected to find an adequate storage facility, and he also did everything that could reasonably be expected, including paying for the move and initial storage fee from his own money, to take care of the the plaintiff’s belongings. Not only are the defendants not liable to pay the plaintiff, but he should reimburse defendant J for the money spent on moving and storage for which he has not been reimbursed yet, 1,200 shekels.
D. Halachic analysis of the issues of the case:
Regarding the question of which items defendant N accepted responsibility for: The cornerstone of monetary halacha is that the side who wants to obligate the other side to pay must bring proof to his claim. In this case, the language of the contract, which discusses defendant N’s responsibility for “furniture” and “items” is open to different interpretations, and no conclusive evidence has been brought to support the the plaintiffs claim that defendant N accepted responsibility for all the items. Therfore, we are not able to obligate defendant N to pay for damage done to items she claims to have not taken responsibility for.
Similarly, since defendant N claims that she did not cause damage, which she would halachically be responsible for, and that her inability to contact the the plaintiff before moving in June, 2015, was due to factors beyond her control, she cannot be obligated to pay for any damages without proof that she was negligent.
In regards to defendant J too, he claims to have acted responsibly in his choice of storage facility and treatment of the items, and if the plaintiff wants to obligate him for damages, he needs to bring proof to his claim that defendant J was negligent.
There are several important points that, from a purely halachic standpoint, need further investigation. For example, the degree to which defendant N should have been responsible for finding the plaintiff’s contact information before having moved the plaintiff’s things. When a person can be held responsible for damages s/he caused unwittingly. The precise nature of defendant J’s responsibility, as a halachic watchman or not, and whether both defendants should be responsible to take an oath to support their claims, or pay a portion of the plaintiff’s claim in lieu of an oath. However, for several reasons we do not believe that the defendants are obligated to pay. Some of those reasons are the fact that the total amount that the defendants claimed to have accepted responsibility for is so small relative to the plaintiff’s claim and no proof has been brought to the plaintiff’s claim, as was mentioned above, together with the fact that the plaintiff has already received 2,500 shekels from a third party for damages.
Regarding defendant J’s claim, that the the plaintiff should finish reimbursing him for the money he spent on moving and storage costs, the plaintiff has no obligation to pay, since he believes that defendant J was negligent in the handling and storage of his items, which led to their becoming damaged. Therefore, since defendant J did not bring proof that he moved and stored the items properly, the the plaintiff does not have to reimburse him.
The claim of the plaintiff is rejected.
The claim of defendant J is rejected.
Since the claims of both sides are reasonable, the 500 shekel Beit Din fee should be split equally between the two sides. The plaintiff has already paid the entire 500 shekels, so the defendants must reimburse him for their share, 250 shekels, within 30 days of this decision.
This Psak Din is being given on the 3rd of Adar II 5776, March 13, 2016
 עיין לדוגמה תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא קמא דף מו עמוד א: "חכמים אומרים: זה כלל גדול בדין המוציא מחבירו עליו הראיה", ועיין גם תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא בתרא דף קעג עמוד א: "אמר רבא: שטר לך בידי פרוע - הגדול פרוע, והקטן אינו פרוע; חוב לך בידי פרוע - שטרות כולן פרועין. אמר ליה רבינא לרבא: אלא מעתה, שדי מכורה לך - שדה גדולה מכורה לו, שדה שיש לי מכורה לך - כל שדותיו מכורין לו! התם יד בעל השטר על התחתונה."