Extended Car Rental

Question

Chanoch rented a car from a private individual for a
three-day trip up
North. On the last day of the trip, he felt unwell and had to be
hospitalized. As a result, he was only able to return the car a week later.
The car owner claims extra rent from Chanoch, to cover the delay in
returning the car, adding that there were others interested in renting the
car during the period in question. Chanoch counters that he only rented the
car for three days. He did not return the car on time due to circumstances
beyond his control and is therefore not responsible for any additional
rental charge. Who is right?


Answer

Reuven rented a donkey for a two-day
journey. On the return journey, he was delayed for a full day by a swollen
river. Does he have to pay for the additional day? The Shulchan Oruch
(Choshen Mishpot 310:3) rules that if the rental was based on the
number of days, he has to pay for the extra day. However, if he told the
owner of the donkey that he needed the animal in order to travel to a
certain place and then come back, or he mentioned two days in conjunction
with his destination, then the law is different. If it was unusual for the
river to swell in this manner, then the donkey owner has to bear the loss.
Should this river have a history of swelling at this time of year and only
the renter was aware of this fact, he has to pay for the extra day. But if
the owner was also aware of this possibility—and certainly if only he
knew of this problem—the renter is exempt from extra payment. The Sema
(Ibid. Note 12) explains that whoever is aware of a potential problem is
expected to include it in the terms of agreement. Thus, if Reuven was in
possession of the relevant information, he should have told the donkey owner
that he would return the animal after two days as long as the river waters
did not swell up. Failure to mention the condition would have made him
liable even if the waters did delay him. If both were aware of the potential
problem, the reason for the renter being exempt from extra payment is quite
simply the principle that the burden of proof falls on whoever wishes to
extract money (hamotzi me’chavero olov hora’ayoh).

Accordingly, if Chanoch had just mentioned that he needs the car for
three days, he would be fully liable for the extra days he kept the car. The
fact that he was prevented from returning the car on time by circumstances
beyond his control does not remove his liability (Responsa of the Rosh,
No.92). On the other hand, if Chanoch had told the car owner that he needs
to travel to a certain destination, stay there for one day and then return,
if it is known that such a journey takes three days it would depend on the
following. If Chanoch had the opportunity to inform the car owner of his
situation, either directly or through others, yet failed to do so, he will
also be liable for the additional days (see Nesivos, Note 9). The owner
could have collected the car and avoided some of the loss. In the event that
Chanoch’s state of health prevented him from contacting the car owner, he
will be exempt from paying for the additional days. Nevertheless, if Chanoch
had left a monetary deposit with the car owner, the owner could collect the
additional rental from this sum. The only reason why the car owner is unable
to collect payment for the extra days is the fact that he has to prove his
entitlement to the money in order to extract it from Chanoch. However, if he
already has Chanoch’s money in his hands (muchzak), it becomes Chanoch’s
duty to prove that the owner is not entitled to payment for the additional
days.