Monday, 2 April 2012

Mold in Israel

Guest Post by  Tzvi Szajnbrun

Mold, Drainage and Moisture in Israel are a well-known painful phenomenon that affects half of this country’s apartments. This is the sad reality we have to deal with. As I have written previously, the sole responsibility to fix moisture and mold lies on the landlord`s shoulders as specified by law. This law determines that the landlord must fix any tangent problem restricting or limiting the use of a rental property. It does not matter if this specific clause does not appear in the contract. It is all about the circumstances and how reasonable or unreasonable these circumstances are.

It may be impossible to convince a Judge that a room that had to be evacuated because of water problems is "reasonable". If a room cannot be used because of water damages the contract can be considered void/null or at least the rent should be recalculated accordingly. 

Mold and New Immigrants: Mold is a different case. Mold can be a result of your own doing. I will try to explain. 

Because of the material used in the construction (we rarely use dry cement walls, etc.), our walls "behave" very differently from what you are accustomed to. If you are used to keeping all the windows shut, you will certainly find mold on the walls - it is just a question of time. Rooms must be ventilated in the winter or you will see those ugly black spots popping out on the ceiling and walls very rapidly. Friends may suggest bleaching, painting or any other "technique”. Don’t waste your time because the mold will come back. You can bleach and paint but to avoid the reappearance of the mold you must open the windows and ventilate the room. 

The Common Roof of the Building: It does not matter on which floor the apartment is located; the roof is the common responsibility of all the property owners - not the tenants living in the property but the owners. This is a problem because a roof will eventually leak if not maintained properly every few years. The question is now who will be responsible for the bill, finding the right person to do the job, etc. 

It is not you but the landlord who is the only one responsible for your wellbeing in his property. This is the problem. The landlord will have to deal with a leak on the roof because a leak will certainly affect you as his tenant. You will need a lot of patience - it will take some time because a roof cannot be fixed in the winter when it is raining - not if you want it repaired correctly. 

The Common Installations of the Building: These are the drainage pipes along the building (coming from the roof), sewage pipes, faucets in public areas, elevators, etc. These are all common property and they are considered as the roof - the responsibility is on the "Vaad Habayit" of the building but it is not your concern at all. Your landlord is the one responsible to deal with the "Vaad Habayit". 

The Unique Problem Caused by Foreign Owners: Jews from all over the world have been buying real estate in Israel for years but not necessarily living in the property they buy. Property management in Israel is a booming business but there is bad news about this as well. Many buildings, especially in the center of Jerusalem, became more like a "ghost premise" with too many empty apartments. When the landlord does not live in the property and if there is no property manager (this is the case with most of these properties) or not even a normal way to communicate with the owner of the property, things can be hard on those tenants living in that kind of building even if the property they are living in has a landlord living in Israel. 

When any major damage is caused to the common area a large amount of money may be needed to make repairs, the difficulties for your landlord due to the lack of communication with other owners, etc. will also become your difficulty. Be prepared for a long waiting period until the problem is finally solved. Try to be calm, polite, but persistent. The problem is not your problem but your landlord`s problem and he is responsible for the property. He receives the rent - this is his issue and not yours. DO NOT get involved with the "Vaad Habayit". You can politely emphasize to your landlord that it is not enough to make an effort. He must succeed in fixing whatever needs to be fixed. 

This must be done within a reasonable time. The courts have decided on several occasions that the obligation to repair water damages is a requirement of the rental contract, and he cannot be exempt by his "efforts” - he must solve the problem and failing to do so is a violation of his duty as a landlord.

 A Word of Wisdom: When a problem arises, try to have a good conversation with your landlord. If this conversation does not lead to solving the problem, let a lawyer speak to him/her. We will probably have better results.

Sincerely, Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at Law
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