Q: The contractor who renovated our house finished working and asked for payment of the final installment. However, we are dissatisfied with one of the cabinets and would like it replaced. Must we pay the bill now or can we withhold payment until he replaces the cabinet?
A: The halachic principle is: “ain sechirus mishtalemes ela l’vasof” – payment for labor is due only at the conclusion of the job. (BM 110b; Rama C.M. 78:1) So long as the contractor has not finished his work, even if only a little bit is left, you are not obligated to pay him, unless the terms of the agreement state otherwise. (Pischei Choshen, Sechirus, ch. 9 end of ftnt. 29)
Therefore, if the contractor agrees that the cabinet has to be replaced, you are not obligated to pay him the remaining balance yet. However, if he claims that the cabinet is adequate, you run the risk of violating the serious prohibition of “bal talin” by withholding his wages. (See Pischei Choshen, Sechirus, ch. 9 ftnt. 1) An external professional must confirm that the cabinet is deficient to justify withholding payment.
Even if “bal talin” does not apply for technical reasons – such as if the contractor does not ask for immediate payment on the day he finishes, or if the contractor was hired by a third party (C.M. 339:7) – there is still a rabbinic prohibition of “al tomar” to withhold payment unnecessarily. However, this prohibition does not apply where there is any reasonable cause to delay the payment.
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.