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To dedicate this lesson
based on ruling 79058 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Dealing with Uncompleted Renovations


Beit Din Eretz Hemda - Gazit

25 Av 5782
Case: The plaintiff (=pl) hired the defendant (=def) to renovate his home. Def gave an estimate of 25,000 NIS, which was paid in full. It was not finalized what work would be included, but the main work was in turning a bedroom into a workroom, undoing a closet area, moving an electric box, and other small jobs. When pl saw that def would not be able to do some of the work, he asked him to build a fence instead; def originally agreed but then decided against it. Pl claims that the work that def did is worth no more than 10,000 NIS and demands a return of 15,000 NIS. Def does not remember what was supposed to be included in the work but claims that pl had been satisfied, which is why he paid in full, and that pl is making claims now because he thinks he could have done much of the work himself.

Ruling: Def was employed as a kablan, one who is paid by the work accomplished (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 333:5), and the amount of time spent is irrelevant. The agreement was finalized by the beginning of the work.

The main question is what was included in def’s obligation to accomplish. Pl’s claim that moving the electric box was included is supported by the architect and the building plans. It is a case of a definite claim vs. a claim of doubt (def does not remember). Based on all the above, we assume that it was included.

In this case, pl broke the employment agreement by demanding money back instead of having def complete any work that needed to be done. In such a case, the hirer has "the lower hand," paying the higher of the value of the work done or the difference between that which was promised and the cost of finishing the job (Rama, CM 333:4). The Netivot Hamishpat (333:7) says that even if a kablan found other work, he still has rights to the pay promised him because one job does not preclude the other. Tehilla L’David (146) and Minchat Pittim (333:1) disagree. Even according to the Netivot Hamishpat, the kablan gets paid as promised only if he is willing to work an equivalent amount to that which was agreed. In this case, def did not agree to do other jobs that pl requested.

At one point, def agreed to build a fence (valued at 7,000 NIS), and pl agreed to forgive the rest of the work value coming to him. Can pl renege on his compromise and demand a full 15,000 NIS? We rule that there is no need for an act of kinyan to relinquish rights. However, one who agreed outside of beit din to make a smaller claim can decide to make a bigger claim in beit din (Minchat Pittim 17:12). In any case, since the mechila was on condition that def build a fence, which he did not do, pl is not bound by his conditional mechila.

Was def’s initial agreement to build a fence an admission that he still owed pl? Although def claims that the agreement was just built upon willingness to go beyond the letter of the law, this claim is an amatla (a way out of a commitment), which is admissible regarding monetary cases only with a strong basis (Shulchan Aruch, CM 47:1). In this case, where there is some indication from the fact that pl paid in full, we are ruling based on compromise that def will return 9,000 NIS.
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