Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Bernsteins lived in Israel, and recently moved into an unfurnished apartment. The apartment had a gas line for the stove, but Mrs. Bernstein preferred an induction (electronic) stovetop to a conventional gas one. Their oven and dryer were also electric, as is common in Israel.

Mrs. Bernstein was very surprised to get a gas bill for 40 NIS one month after moving in. “How did we get a gas bill?” she asked her husband. “We didn’t use any gas!”

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Mr. Bernstein examined the bill. “There is a 40 NIS monthly fee for service,” he replied. “Indeed, the bill states 0 for usage.”

“I’ll call the gas company and cancel the service!” said Mrs. Bernstein. “There’s no reason we should pay 40 NIS a month for nothing!”

Mrs. Bernstein called the company the following day. “We can disconnect you,” said the representative, “but there is a 150 NIS disconnection fee.”

“And if we move out and the next tenant wants to use gas?” asked Mrs. Bernstein.

“There is another 150 NIS fee to reconnect,” replied the representative.

“I’ll discuss the issue with my husband,” said Mrs. Bernstein.

That evening, over supper, Mrs. Bernstein shared the information with her husband. “It’s not fair that we should have to pay for the gas service or the disconnection fee,” she said. “We never asked the landlord for it. Let him pay for it!”

Mr. Bernstein spoke with the landlord the next morning. “The gas line goes with the apartment,” the landlord insisted. “You can cancel the service if you want, but at your expense – and make sure to reconnect it before you leave!”

“You’re exaggerating,” said Mr. Bernstein. “Why should I have to pay for the next tenant?”

Mr. Bernstein called Rabbi Dayan and asked:

“Who is liable for the gas bill and the fees for disconnection and reconnection?”

“The financial arrangements between landlords and tenants are contractual,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, they depend mostly on the contract between the two parties. In the absence of a contract, or if there is no mention of a particular issue – we usually follow the minhag hamedina – common practice.”

“The Mishna (B.M. 101a) addresses the division of liabilities and rights between the landlord and tenant. As a rule of thumb, the tenant is responsible for the simple ongoing upkeep of the property. Based on this, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch rule that the manure that collects in the courtyard (which was used for fertilizer) belongs to the tenant – and he is also responsible to clear it away. However, if there is a common practice otherwise, we follow that (C.M. 313:3).

“In almost all rentals, basic utilities are taken for granted as part of the rental. This includes electricity, gas, and often a telephone line. Sometimes, the estimated, average cost of utilities is included in the rental price, but most often the tenant is expected to pay for the utilities directly.

“If the tenant does not want to use a specific utility, that is his prerogative, but the monthly fee for the service during his term of occupancy remains his responsibility. If it is more cost-effective for him to cancel the service, he can, but the fee is on him, and he cannot transfer it to the landlord.

“Furthermore, when the tenant leaves the apartment, the contract usually requires that he return it in similar condition, which would include the possibility of utilities. Thus, the cost of reconnecting the service is also his responsibility.

“This stands in contrast to something like cable TV service, which in most places is not considered standard. If not stated otherwise, and the tenant has no interest in this service, he would not be liable for the monthly fee or disconnecting fee.

“Internet service nowadays is questionable, and depends on the community,” concluded Rabbi Dayan “Furthermore, often there are various carriers, and one may prefer one carrier over another.”

Verdict: In general, the tenant is responsible for the costs and fees associated with basic utilities.

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.