Thanks For The (Free?) Roof!


Mr. Levi lives on the first floor of an apartment building. After receiving the
appropriate permits, he built an extension to his apartment. This provided Mr. Cohen, who
lives on the floor above, with a floor – for a room or porch – and Mr. Israel,
who lives below, with a roof! Mr. Levi asked his two neighbors to pay for the benefit they
have received. They refused, arguing that the work was carried out purely for his own
benefit. Do they have to pay? If they are exempt from paying at this stage, would the
situation change if Mr. Cohen completed the porch or Mr. Israel added walls to the roof
already in existence?


The Remo writes in Choshen Mishpot (264:4) that if Reuven
benefits from work done for him by Shimon, he can not avoid paying for it by claiming that
he never asked Shimon to perform the job. Earlier, the Remo discusses the case of a person
who saved his friend’s books from destruction at the same time as saving his own. If
he did not incur extra expenses in saving his friend’s property, the friend could be
exempt from paying for the benefit he received. It all depends on the rescuer’s
intentions. If he originally only had in mind to rescue his own property, but managed to
save his friend’s books in the process, the friend does not have to share in the
costs. However, if his original intention was to save his friend’s property as well,
the friend is obligated to pay his share of the expenses.

The Vilna Gaon (in Bi’ur HaGra, Ibid, Note 13), writes that
the source for this law is from the Talmud Tractate Bovo Metzia (101a). If Reuven
sees that Shimon’s field has not been ploughed and sown this season and he decides to
do the work without being asked, Shimon is obligated to pay both for the labor and the
materials. Although he did not commission the work, it was obvious that it needed to be
done, just as it had been done every year. Had Reuven not performed the job, Shimon would
have had to hire another worker to do so. He therefore has to pay for the benefit.

In our case, Mr. Levi’s neighbors could argue that the building
work was carried out purely for his own benefit. If they derive automatic benefit from
this construction work, they should not have to pay for it. On the other hand, Mr. Levi
could respond that he carried out the work purely for the benefit of his neighbors –
and he intended to benefit from the construction for free (see Darkei Moshe on
the Tur, ad loco, Note 2)! As a result, the law should be that each neighbor
should pay half the cost of the part of the building work from which he benefitted.

However, there is one basic difference between our case and that of the
field. The field is meant to be ploughed and sown every year. One can not say that the
neighbors are expected to add another room or porch to their apartment. Therefore, as long
as they do not actually make use of Mr. Levi’s construction, they are not obligated
to pay him a penny. Should they add walls to the floor and roof that are already in
existence, they demonstrate that they are deriving benefit form Mr. Levi’s work. They
would then be obligated to pay half the market price for the floor or roof from which they
have benefited.

Therefore, concerning our original question, as long as Mr.
Cohen and Mr. Israel do not complete the construction work that has been done for them,
they are exempt from paying. Unless Mr. Levi admits that he carried out the work
exclusively for his own benefit – in which case the neighbors will always be
exempt from payment – it is assumed that he also had his neighbors in mind.