Rental Collapsed

Bava Metzia (8:9) | Yisrael Bankier | 2 months ago

The Mishnah (8:9) teaches that if one rents out a house for a year and the house collapses, the landlord must rebuild the house while maintaining the original dimensions. The Gemara (103a) clarifies that the Mishnah is referring to a specific case.

Had the owner stated that he was providing "this house", once the house collapsed, that house is no longer present and the owner has no responsibility to rebuilt it. If the owner said he was providing "a house" then once he rebuilds the house, he would not be restricted on the dimension of the new house that he builds. The Gemara concludes that the case in the Mishnah is where the owner promised to provide "a house like this one".

Returning to the case where the owner promised to provide "this house", let us probe the Gemara's understanding that the owner need not rebuild the house for the tenant. What is the law regarding the rental payment?

The Ramban, Rambam, Tosfot and Rosh explain that the tenant need only pay for the time he used the property and need not pay for the remainder of the agreed rental period. Interestingly the Raah (cited by the Ritvah) however maintains that the tenant would need to pay the rental in full despite the owner being exempt from rebuilding the house. We need to understand this debate.

When citing the Raah, the Ritvah explains that this case is comparable to one that purchased a house, and the house then collapsed prior to completing the payment. In such a case the purchase price must nevertheless be paid in full. It follows then that the Ra'ah understands that when one rents a property, it is considered is if they have purchased it for that time. Consequently, the payment is for the purchase of the property for the time period. If the house collapses during that time it would not impact the amount due.

How then do we understand the opinion of the Ramban? The Kovetz Ha'arot (53:3) explains that the Ramban understands the payment for schirut (rental) differently. He understands the payment is for the use of the property. Consequently, the payment is required as long as the property can be used. Once the house collapses, since the tenant can no longer use the house, no further payment is required.

The Chazon Ish (Bava Metzia 23:10) however understand that everyone agrees that the rental is considered a temporary purchase. Why then does the Ramban maintain that no further payment is required if the house collapses? The Chazon Ish explains that once the house collapses it is considered as if the purchase period was only until that moment, as it then becomes clear that the owner could not have sold it beyond that point. Alternatively, the Chazon Ish suggests that the Ramban maintains that it is considered as if there is an implicit condition that the no further payment is required if the house collapses.

To help understand the difference between whether rental is understood as a temporary purchase or usage rights, we shall examine another case. The Chazon Ish notes if the tenant wishes to move out half way through the rental period, then everyone agrees that the tenant must pay the full fee. The house is still standing, and nothing is forcing the tenant to leave. Since the Chazon Ish understands that everyone agrees that the rental is considered a temporary purchase, even if the owner could very quickly find a new tenant he would not need to, and would still accept the full payment. The Chazon Ish explains that this is because the remainder of the payment is not understood as compensating the owner for the loss. If that were the case (similar to the way the Ra'ah explains the Ramban) it would be similar to a case of a worker that leaves in the middle of a project. We learnt that in that case the workers would need to compensate the owner for the loss incurred if finding replacement workers would require a greater fee. Instead the payment for the remainder of the rental period is understood as being similar to paying the remainder of the purchase price.

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