Mold removal- Landlord or Tenant?

By: Rabbi Baruch Meir Levine

Q. Due to a recent flood in our apartment some of the sheetrock acquired slight traces of mold on it. I repeatedly mentioned this to my upstairs landlord with every time him telling me that he will “look into it”. Eventually, my wife got very nervous about the mold and so we just got it replaced ourselves, at a cost of $700. When I asked my landlord to reimburse me, he said he wasn’t convinced that such a small degree of mold presented any problem, and was thus hesitant to pay for it. Do we have any halachic recourse in getting reimbursed for this expenditure?


 Strictly speaking, the responsibility that the halacha places on a landlord for repairs that become necessary during the course of the lease term is very limited[1]. As such, the primary basis for requiring a landlord to make any repairs would lie in his obligation of conforming to the accepted practice among landlords in the area.

Whenever two parties enter into a rental agreement or for that matter any other financial agreement with one another, unless specified otherwise, we will assume it was done with the understanding that each party will follow the common practice of that particular agreement[2]. This effectively obligates the parties to conform to these common practices. For example, even if the rental contract doesn’t mention a requirement for the tenant to give the landlord advance notice before terminating the lease, he would still be required to do so if that were the accepted practice in that area. Similarly, the landlord would be required to make any repairs that would be accepted for a landlord to do for that particular sort of rental.

As such, the answer to your question would not be halachic per se, but rather would depend upon whether or not the typical landlord in your community, would replace sheetrock with such mold on it, either on his own consideration or because the law required him to do so.

However, even if we cannot ascertain that it would be the accepted practice to make these repairs, your landlord may still be obligated to reimburse you, at least in part, for your expense.

This basis for this would be the halacha of yored, (loosely translated as an unsolicited worker). The halacha is that anytime one does work for another on his own initiative, and the work is of monetary value to the recipient, he, the recipient is required to pay the worker the going rate for this work, even though he never hired him to do so. In Chazal’s view, benefitting from such work without reimbursing the worker, would be tantamount to gezel – theft. Of course if the worker had in mind to do the work as a favor for the recipient this halacha wouldn’t apply.

In your scenario, even if the mold was not severe enough to require your landlord to repair it, chances are, he would end up having to do so before renting out the apartment to a new tenant. Hence, you have improved his property in a manner which will be beneficial to him and have the halachic status of a yored. Therefore, according to many poskim, your landlord is required to reimburse you the $700 for the project, provided, that is the going rate for such a job[3]. Furthermore, even if you had done the work yourself and only paid for the material, he would still be required to pay you $700, since that is what he would have otherwise had to pay for this service[4].

Even if the circumstances were such that the landlord would have never find it cost effective to spend the $700 for these repairs, certainly he would have been willing to pay some amount of money in order to have the mold removed. As such, he would be required to reimburse you for this amount that he has benefitted[5].

However, in any case, since these improvements will only present a benefit to him when you move out, he would presumably not be required to pay you until that point[6].

[1] עיין ברמ"א (ס’ שי"ד סק"א) דאם נשבר דבר בהבית תוך ימי השכירות אם אמר לו בית זה אין צריך לתקנו. ועיין בקצה"ח שהקשה ע"ז ממה שכ’ המחבר (סי’ שי"ב סי"ז) ע"פ שיטת הרא"ש דאם הבית קיים אלא שמסוכן לדור בו חייב המשכיר לתקנו. ועיין בבהגר"א שכ’ דהוי מחלוקת המחבר והרמ"א. ועל כן יכול המשכיר לומר קים לי כשיטת המחבר. אולם אם המשכיר אינו מתקנו יכול השוכר עכ"פ לבטל השכירות.

[2] עיין בתשו’ הרשב"א (ח"ב סי’ רס"ח) שהאריך בענין זה, ובתוך לשונו כתב "וכן אתה דן בכ"מ במה שנהגו בממנות וכו’ אפילו לא הסכימו בפירוש בני המדינה אלא שנהגו כן סתמא, הוא מנהג חזק כאלו התנו בו בפירוש, ואפילו לא כתבו הרי הוא מן הסתם כאלו כתבו וכו’ " עכ"ל.

[3] רמ"א (חו"מ סי’ רס"ד ס"ד). והנה בנ"ד השוכר עשה הפעולה להנאת עצמו, והרמ"א כתב (שם גבי יורד לציל) דאם הוציא הוצאות בשביל עצמו ודרך אגב אף חבירו נהנה מזה אינו צריך לשלם לו. אולם עיין בתשובות והנהגות (להג’ ר’ משה שטערנבך שליט"א סי’ תפ"ט) שביאר דזהו דוקא כשלא הגיע לחבירו הנאה של ממוני גבך רק שנהנה מפעולתו אבל כשיש ביד הבעה"ב הנאה של ממוני גבך חייב לשלם אף כשכוונת היורד היה להנאת עצמו. וכעין זה מסיק בחבצלת השרון (חחו"מ סי’ ל’) ובפתחי חושן (הל’ גניבה ואונאה פ"ח הערה לב’). אולם עיין בתשו’ הרא"ש (הובא בטור סי’ רע"ה) דמשמע דאפילו בכה"ג פטור, ויש ליישב. ועיין עוד בנתה"מ (סי’ שמ"א סוסקט"ו.) שכתב דיש לחייבו כמו שותפין שכופין זל"ז בדבר שהוא לטובת שניהם.

[4] חו"מ (סי’ שע"ח ס"א) דבשדה העשויה ליטע אומדין כמה אדם רוצה ליתן, והיינו השבח אפילו כשהוא יתירא על ההוצאה. אולם כשההוצאה יתירא על השבח כתב בבהגר"א (סק"ט) דפילו בשדה העשויה ליטע אינו נוטל אלא השבח.

[5] חו"מ (שם) דאפילו בשדה שאינו עשויה ליטע מ"מ צריך לשלם לו ההוצאות עד שיעור השבח.

[6] כן כתב הנתה"מ בסי’ שמ"א (בסוף סקט"ו).

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