Friendly Rental

Question

Benny has moved into a new building development for
Orthodox Jews. Some of the other apartments in his block have stood empty
for some time. He now hears that one of the owners intends to rent out his
apartment to a family with a very non-religious lifestyle. Is there any
way he can stop this happening?


Answer

In Tractate Bovo Kamo (114a) we are informed
that if a Jew sells a field which borders another Jew’s property to a
non-Jew, he is placed under a ban until he accepts full responsibility for
any loss that this new neighbour may cause. Rabenu Tam (quoted in Tosafos
ad loco) states that these measures are only taken if the Jewish owner
could have sold to a fellow-Jew for the same price, but nevertheless chose
to sell to the non-Jew. However, if the non-Jew offers a better price,
there is no need for the Jewish vendor to take a loss in order to sell to
a fellow-Jew. The Sema (Choshen Mishpot 175, Note 73)
explains that Rabenu Tam only permits selling at the full market
value to a non-Jew if no Jew is prepared to pay the proper price. He is
not suggesting that if the non-Jew offers over the odds one may sell to
him if there is a Jew who is prepared to pay the market value of the
property. One does not have to sustain a loss in order to sell to a
fellow-Jew. On the other hand, one is not permitted to make extra profit
by selling to a non-Jew. Furthermore, if one suspects that a non-Jew is
attempting to buy into an established Jewish neighbourhood with the
eventual intention of taking it over, Beis Din are empowered to
block the sale.

May a Jew living in an exclusively Jewish district sell
his house to a non-Jew who is known for his gentlemanly behaviour? The Geonim
(Teshuvas HaGeonim Haketzoros 119) replied that the other Jewish
residents still have the right to object to this sale. Even if the
potential buyer is a Jew whose lifestyle clashes with that of the other
residents, the same right of objection applies. The Knesses HaGedolah
(to Choshen Mishpot 156) adds that this law would also apply if the
unsuitable potential neighbour was only renting accommodation and not
buying. People living in a particular area have a right to ensure that
their environment remains spiritually stable.

Accordingly, we can conclude that if non-Orthodox Jews
move into an area which is populated exclusively by the strictly Orthodox,
their lifestyle is likely to disturb their neighbours, even though they
may be very nice people. Codes of dress and Shabbos observance are
just two examples of areas where there is potential for disturbance of the
social balance. (We are obviously not discussing a case where the
not-yet-religious wish to move into a religious neighbourhood in order to
adopt a more religious lifestyle. Such neighbours should be given a warm
reception.)

If a new development was purpose-built for Orthodox
Jews, there is an additional reason why residents can object to an
unsuitable new neighbour. All those who purchased a home in this
development did so on the clear understanding that all neighbours would be
observant Jews. Selling to a person who does not fit this description is a
violation of the basic conditions of sale (Emek Hamishpot, Vol.3,
No.36).

It is therefore clear that apartment owners may not
rent out their property to non-Orthodox tenants in an exclusively Orthodox
neighbourhood. If such tenants have already moved in, the landlord should
ensure that they leave as quickly as possible. However, their departure
must be handled in a sensitive manner.