Q: I hired someone to paint four rooms. He gave me a bill for $1,200, but I remember the estimate as being $1,000. What do we do?
A: To avoid disagreements of this sort, it is advisable to get a written estimate. In this case, however, there is no evidence to resolve the dispute.
Since the painter claims $1,200 and the homeowner admits that he owes $1,000, the homeowner is modeh b’miktzat (i.e., he admits partially to the claim). Therefore, the homeowner must pay the $1,000 that he admits and take a severe oath in court that he does not owe the remaining $200. (SM”A 89:17) However, most batei din nowadays refrain from imposing oaths and encourage reaching a compromise instead.
If the homeowner does not remember clearly whether he agreed to $1,000 or $1,200, he must pay the full sum. This is because he is unable to take the severe oath in which he is obligated. (C.M. 75:13)
However, if the homeowner already paid the $1,000, or is prepared to pay immediately, the nature of the oath is subject to a dispute beyond the scope of this column. (See C.M. 89:4 and Shach 89:10) Furthermore, in this case, if the homeowner does not remember, he cannot be made to pay the extra $200 – but it is meritorious for him to do so. (C.M. 75:9 and Shach 88:36)
Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian
These articles are for learning purposes only and cannot be used for final halachic decision. The Business Halacha email is a project of Business Halacha Institute (www.businesshalacha.com) and is under the auspices of Rav Chaim Kohn.