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Beit Midrash Series P'ninat Mishpat

Chapter 83

Overpricing as a Reason to Nullify a Sale

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P'ninat Mishpat (598)
Various Rabbis
82 - The Validity Representatives of the Public
83 - Overpricing as a Reason to Nullify a Sale
84 - A Contractor’s Work That Was Stopped in the Middle
Load More
The plaintiff (=pl) bought a computer with some software from the defendant (=def), who sold an individual computer and is not a professional salesman, for 3,500 shekels. Pl claims that after the sale, he discovered that the computer and software is worth only 2,400 shekels and presented a written estimate from a computer technician, who put the value at between 1,600-2,000 shekels. Since the discrepancy in price is more than 20%, pl wants to nullify the sale due to extreme mispricing.

Ruling: Beit din asked of three computer technicians to estimate the value of the computer and the relevant software. Two of them set the price at 2,000 shekels; the third estimated the price at 3,000 shekels.
The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 103:2) rules: "Three people estimated the value of an object: if one said it is worth 100 zuz and two said it is worth 200 zuz, or one said 200 zuz and two said 100 zuz, the minority opinion is dismissed." Therefore, we should set the value of the computer at 2,000 shekels. Even if we were to average out the estimates, it would come only to 2,333 shekels. Either way, there is more than a 20% price deferential between the market price and the price that was charged. Based on the rules of ona’ah (mispricing), if the difference is more than a shtut (what the Talmud calls 1/6th, according to a system of arithmetic known as milebar), which comes to 20%, the sale can be voided.
The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 227:23) says that when a non-merchant sells one of the utensils from his household and overcharges, the laws of ona’ah do not apply because had the buyer not paid more than the regular price, the owner would not have been willing to sell it. Therefore, there is room to say that def, a non-professional who sold his computer, is unaffected by the laws of ona’ah. However, beit din decided that the Shulchan Aruch referred to the case of an object that has sentimental value to its owner and does not apply to the computer at hand. In this regard, this seller is like any other, and the sale may be voided.
Furthermore, according to one of the opinions in the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.:24) the exception for non-merchants is only when the mispricing is up to a shtut (20%), not beyond it. As we showed, in this case, the ona’ah clearly exceeds a shtut.
Therefore, pl has the right to void the sale.
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