Beit Midrash

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Pay for Imperfect Work


Various Rabbis

The defendant (=def) hired the plaintiff (=pl) to make a garden and build a walkway from it to def’s home for a certain price. Def paid half of the price before the work commenced, but now is unwilling to pay the rest. He claims that the work on the walkway was done unprofessionally in a number of aspects. He is willing to pay only that which corresponds to pl’s out-of-pocket expenses. He says that it will take 2,000 shekels to fix that which pl did improperly, and he is not willing for pl to attempt to do it himself due to lack of trust in his professional abilities.

Ruling: Conflicts over the quality of work done are often a result of lack of alignment of expectations between the two parties. Def did not see samples of pl’s work in advance. There is no document that describes the exact nature of the work to be done, and changes that were ordered along the way were not recorded.
Beit din is displeased with the fact that def withheld so much money, considering the Torah imperative to pay a worker on time. The fact that he had agreed to go to beit din does not exempt def to pay that which he admits that he certainly owes.
Beit din obtained pictures of pl’s work for def. The imperfections are evident, but the work is generally reasonable. Upon evaluating the agreed upon price, it is clear that pl charged a very low price, in which his out-of-pocket expenses were 75% of the total price. With all of the imperfections, it is still clear that the value of the work exceeds the outlays. In such a case, we apply the halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 375:1) that even when one does work without permission and the work was not slated to be done, if the improvement is at least as much as the expenses, the recipient pays the expenses. The same halacha is said in regard to unprofessional work (ibid. 306:3). If the work was so bad that it should be undone there would not be gain from it. However, in this case, improvements can be made without undoing that which was done.
The Shach (306:5) says that in determining the expenses of the work, the basic price of the worker’s labor is also included. In other words, if a high price was chosen and the work was not up to par, the worker would deserve only a low price for the work that he did. Although Tosafot disagrees with the Shach on this point and does not consider the basic compensation of worker’s efforts as expenses, in our case, where there is only a need for relatively minor fixing, it is clear that pl deserves to be paid for the time he put into the work. While he should not get paid for the extra amount that one who takes responsibility as a contractor receives, he should receive compensation for his labor.
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