Question: [Wednesday, 17th Shevat, 5782]
I am a real estate agent and I’m working for a certain individual who owns a rental property to help sell his home. I found a buyer who is willing to pay the price that the owner is asking for and we began negotiations. However, I recently received a phone call from the current renter who says he is interested in buying the home which he has lived in for over 10 years and that he receives precedence in purchasing the property over anyone else being that he the renter has the status of a Bar Metzra. So I spoke to the owner, and the owner said that he has no problem selling it to the renter, and he has actually offered it to him a few times, although the renter simply doesn’t have the money to pay. I spoke to the renter, and he said that it’s true that he doesn’t yet have the money to buy the home but he expects to come up with it within the next year or so, and therefore the owner may not sell it to someone else in the interim being that he has precedence. I am getting pressure from all sides, as the owner does not want to wait to make the sale, and the potential buyer is waiting on our answer, and the renter is saying that I’m doing a prohibition, and I would like to know what my halachic obligations are. May I go through with the sale to the current potential buyer, or must I tell the owner that I can’t do it because there’s a law of precedence?
In the above situation, since the renter does not currently have the money to purchase the property, therefore the owner is not obligated to wait until he does, and the current potential buyer is free to go ahead and purchase the property despite the claims of the renter. Certainly, you the real estate agent may go through with the sale and do not transgress anything. To note, however, that the new owner is required to honor whatever rent contract was written with the current tenant until the end of the contract, is protected in both civil and Jewish law.
Explanation: The law of Bar Metzra is a law which states that when a person sells a property, the neighbors of that property receive precedence of purchase over anyone else. Even in the event that the owner went ahead and sold it to someone else, the Bar Metrza neighbor has the legal right to reimburse the new owner with the money of the sale and take the property for himself. The reason for this law is due to basic civility and rights of living, in which it is more proper to give a person who is a current resident the opportunity to expand his residence, than to give it to another outside person who has a residence elsewhere. The outside person has nothing to lose by buying a property elsewhere, while the neighbor will need to move from his current environment, or split location of his properties, if he is required to buy elsewhere. This law is learned from the verse which states, “Veasisa Hayashar Vehatov Beiyneiy Hashem/and thou shall do the proper and the just in the eyes of G-d.” Although there is a dispute in the Rishonim if this law applies only to the sale of a field or even to a home, practically we rule that it applies also to the sale of a home. This rule however has several exceptions, in which case the laws of precedence do not apply. One of the exceptions is in a case that the Bar Metzra neighbor does not have money to pay for the property at this moment, in which case it is permitted for another person to purchase it and there is no obligation for the owner to wait. Certainly, this applies if the owner is unsure if and when the neighbor will ever come up with the money to purchase it. Certainly, this applies if the neighbor is offering less money than the other potential buyer. Thus, in the above case there is certainly no law of Bar Metzra upon the renter, and his claim is baseless as he does not currently have the money to purchase the home and the owner does not desire to wait and see if and when he will ever get. This is aside for the fact that there are many other possible exceptions that can be relevant in this case even in the event that the current renter would offer the money immediately. This is also aside for the fact that in truth it is questionable if at all a renter even has the status of a Bar Metzra as perhaps the status is only given to someone who actually owns nearby property. Practically, this matter is debated amongst the Poskim, with the Michaber holding that he does not have the status, and with a debate amongst the Poskim if according to the Rama he does have this status, with some stating he does another stating he doesn’t. The final ruling in this matter is that initially one should give the renter precedence if he is offering to buy it now at the same time as the other potential buyer, otherwise he does not have precedence.
Sources: See regarding the general laws of a Bar Metzra: Michaber C.M. 175:6; Rambam Shecheinim 12:5; Bava Metzia 108a; Devarim 6:18; Encyclopedia Talmudit Vol. 4 Erech Bar Metzra; See regarding that the law of Bar Metzra applies also by homes and not just by fields: Michaber and Rama 175:53; See regarding that the owner does not have to sell it to the neighbor if the neighbor does not currently have the money to make the purchase or if the owner will have any loss in selling to the neighbor: Michaber C.M. 175:25, 8; Michaber and Rama 175:23; Aruch Hashulchan 175:11 See regarding the need for the neighbor to offer the same price as requested by the owner and as an outside buyer is willing to pay: Michaber C.M. 175:7 and 9; Michaber and Rama 175:23; See regarding if the law of Bar Metzra applies by a renter: Michaber C.M. 175:59 [that a neighbor cannot claim the status of Bar Metzra if he desires to rent it, and only applies when buying a home]; Michaber and Rama 175:60 [for a dispute as to whether the renter of a home is considered a Bar Metzra to receive precedence in purchasing the home next to him rental home] Michaber 175:61 [that if the owner sold the home to his renter the neighbor cannot protest]; See Encyclopedia Talmudit Vol. 4 Erech Bar Metzra p. 174; The following Poskim rule that a renter does not the status of a Bar Metzra to be given precedence in sale of his rented home: Michaber 175:63 [that a renter does not have a status of a Bar Metzra to receive precedence in purchasing the rented home, and hence if the owner sold to someone else the renter cannot reimburse him and take the home for himself]; Shach 175:61 in name of Rashal; Pischeiy Teshuvah 175:28 in name of Shaar Mishpat in name of Shut Rashal 43 and Teshuvos Bach 69 [that this ruling applies even according to Rama that a renter does not have the status of a Bar Metzra to receive precedence in buying is rented home]; Hagahos Rav Akiva Eiger 175:63; Chidushei Chasam Sofer on Smhe 175:116 that so rules Rashal, Bach and Shach and hence the renter cannot force the new buyer out; The following Poskim rule that a renter does have the status of a Bar Metzra: Rama 175:60 regarding purchasing neighboring home “Some argue and say that a renter has a status of a Bar Metzra”; Smeh C.M. 175:113-116 and Derisha on Tur ibid based on Rama 175:57 that according to the Rama the renter even has the right to reimburse the buyer and take the property [However, see Rashal ibid who argues on Smeh and his understanding of Rama ibid]; Nesivos Hamishpat 175:67 in name of Smeh ibid; Aruch Hashulchan 175:39; Shvus Yaakov 3:165 concludes that initially the owner must give his renter precedence to purchase his rented home, however, it was already sold then the renter cannot force the buyer out; Taz on 175:58, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 175:27, that a current renter has a status of Bar Metzra over a new potential renter; See however Pischeiy Teshuvah ibid for the various cases in which this doesn’t apply