Sheltered Junk

Question

The residents of 26, Seltzer Blvd. were
given notice that their bomb shelter was to be inspected in ten days’
time. The va’ad habayit (house committee) put up a sign asking all
residents to remove their belongings from the shelter. Almost everyone
complied, since all that was left two days before the inspection was a
pile of boxes and suitcases in one corner. The house committee managed to
trace all known former residents of the building, but could not identify
the owner of the remaining items. Then one resident remembered that one
owner had gone abroad a year ago and hastily rented out his apartment. The
remaining items must belong to him. Are the residents permitted to throw
this property into the street, since if they remain in the shelter, all
the residents will be fined?


Answer

At first glance, it would appear that it is forbidden
to throw out another person’s property. If one finds a lost item in the
street, one is obligated by the Torah to look after it until one
can locate the rightful owner and return it to him. It would therefore
seem logical that if one does know the identity of the owner, one must
certainly guard it. One may certainly not place it in a place where it
could be damaged. However, there are cases where one may remove the
property of others from one’s premises and put it in the street. In
Tractate Bovo Metzia (101b), we are told about how a wine merchant
tried to solve his storage problems. A shipload of wine arrived and this
merchant could not find suitable premises for storing the consignment. A
certain widow did own a suitable storehouse, but refused to allow him to
store his wine there. He thereupon married her, which prompted her to
change her mind! After all the wine had been safely stored on her
premises, he went home and sent her a get (bill of divorce). She
was enraged by his trickery. She sold some barrels of wine in order to pay
for workers to remove all the wine and place it in the street. When Rav
Hunna was asked for his opinion, he wholeheartedly agreed with the cheated
widow. Accordingly, the Rambam (Laws of Hiring 7:5) rules that if
items are stored on another person’s premises without the owner’s
permission or with permission gained through trickery, the owner may sell
some of the items to pay for workers to throw these goods into the street.
However, it is considered meritorious to inform Beis Din of what
one has done. They will then sell some more of the illegally stored
property in order to hire storage space for the remaining goods. The owner
has thereby ensured that these goods do not come to any harm, even though
they were illegally left on his property.

All are aware that by law bomb shelters need to be kept free of all
unnecessary items. Even though many residents of apartment blocks do store
items in the shelter, it is on the clear understanding that they will
remove them if there is an inspection or in case of war, Heaven forbid. To
deposit one’s goods and disappear without leaving any means of contact can
be considered the equivalent of deposit without permission (see Pischei
Choshen
, Vol. 2, Chapter 1, Note 63 for further details). Therefore,
the laws mentioned above would apply. The residents may sell some of the
goods in order to pay for workers to remove the remainder and place them
outside in the street. However, it would be good if they informed Beis
Din
of their intention. Beis Din would then attend to the
storage of the goods, at the owner’s expense. The Taz (Choshen
Mishpot 319) points out that we see how careful one must be not to
cause damage to the property of others, even if they acted improperly by
depositing without permission (see Tuvcha Yabiu No 51).