Question: I rented a house for $6,000 a month. It later became clear that I was swindled and comparable rentals in the area are not worth more than $4,000. Can I claim ona’ah and demand a refund or annul the rental? What about a car rental?
Answer: The rules of ona’ah apply not only to sales, but also to rentals, since rentals are considered a kind of “sale” for that day or month. Therefore, you are able to claim ona’ah on a car rental. (C.M. 227:35)
However, the Gemara (B.M. 56a,b) derives from verses that the rules of ona’ah apply only to movable items that have intrinsic value. This excludes: real estate, which is not movable; slaves, which are juxtaposed and equated to real estate; and loan documents, which serve as proof but do not have intrinsic value. Therefore, since the house is real estate, you cannot claim ona’ah on the house rental. (227:29)
If the price differential reaches double – e.g., the house rental was worth not more than $3,000 – the Rama rules that there is an ona’ah claim. (See SM”A 227:49)
Although the Gemara excludes real estate, slaves, and loan documents from claiming ona’ah, many Rishonim maintain that there still exists a prohibition against knowingly swindling the other party who is unaware of the going rate, and one is not allowed to do so. (See SM”A 227:51 and Pischei Teshuva 227:21)
IY”H, next week we will address practical applications of the exclusion of slaves and loan documents.
Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian
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