Dear Rachel,

I’ve been renting from my landlord for about five years, and we’ve had our ups and downs. About a year ago in April, my air-conditioner started dripping. I asked him periodically over the spring and summer to fix it, and he said he would. But since nothing happened in thisI decided to call the technician myself regard, I decided to call a technician myself.

The technician cleaned the filter and then said it would cost $100 to fix (I pay $1,000 dollars a month in rent). The landlord said that was too expensive, and he would send someone else to do the job. In the meantime, I renewed the lease for another year.

Fall came and went, and the landlord had still not repaired the air-conditioner. I switched to heat, and the winter passed. In the spring, I again reminded the landlord that he had still not fixed the air-conditioning unit. So he showed up to fix it himself. He did something to it, and told me to run it a while and see if it still leaked. It was too cool at the time to run it, so I waited until the next heat wave, when again it leaked.

I'm absolutely burning with anger. It very clearly says on my lease that I'm supposed to have a working air-conditioner. Besides the nuisance of having to have a towel under the unit in my living room all summer, the injustice of it rankles. This isn’t the only thing he’s avoided paying for, and it is a clear-cut violation of my rental contract. I don’t want to have to move because of this, but how can anyone be so unscrupulous? And how do I deal with this?

Steamed


Dear Steamed,

One of the questions we’re asked when we go to the Heavenly Court after 120 years (and that we have no choice but to answer honestly), is if we were honest in our business dealings. In fact, this is the first question we’re asked.1 It seems incomprehensible to me that someone would endanger their spiritual standing for $100, but everyone has their weak points, and it seems like your landlord’s is that he is a tightwad.

If you’re correct and your landlord has broken the terms of your contract, he is liable to pay for your air-conditioning repair (as well as any other repairs in the apartment he has theretofore not taken responsibility for) and possibly even damages for all the aggravation you’ve endured as a result of it. Jewish law is clear that when someone has wronged you, you are permitted—even required—to seek redress.

It’s clear from your letter that you want to do the right thing. The first order of business is to pay for the repair so you’re not troubled anymore by the leaking water and needless anguish. You don’t have to punish yourself for your landlord’s lack of integrity. Get a receipt for the repair and a guarantee for how long it’s good for. Once the repair has been made, coolly present the bill to your landlord and ask him to reimburse you or deduct the amount from the next rent payment.

If he refuses to reimburse you and demands the full rent, there are laws (both halachic and legal) to protect you. If your landlord is Jewish, you can take him to a Din Torah, which is where a rabbinical court comprised of three rabbis hears your complaint and renders judgment about what and how much he is liable for. If he’s not Jewish or if he refuses to settle this before a Court of Jewish Law, then you have a right to seek compensation legally. Perhaps you have lawyer friend who would be willing to take this on as a favor since it would cost more than $100 to sue or file a claim yourself in small-claims court. This man obviously needs incentive to uphold his end of the contract.

Be advised that he could still refuse to pay, andJewish law does not say you need to be a chump even if he does, this will most likely stress your relationship (he may not even be willing to rent to you in the future). But your seeking justice will also discourage him from doing this to future tenants (and to you again). Jewish law does not say you have to be a chump.

Once the technical and financial aspects of the repair have been taken care of, try to forgive your landlord. When we forgive the transgressions of others against us, G‑d forgives ours.

Other people’s lapses in integrity are always frustrating, and we are particularly incensed when they impact us. The world is full of injustice. The best way to combat it is to practice impeccable integrity and protect ourselves in a just manner from others. As it says in Deuteronomy 15:20, “Pursue justice justly,” and leave it up to the Ultimate Judge to make sure that justice is served.

Hoping you keep cool with a warm heart!

Rachel