Real Estate
Close to 70% of the bonds issued in August 2013 were by real estate companies. Photo by Bloomberg
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The buzzing of hordes of customers around rental properties used to be a familiar sight on the Tel Aviv rental market a few years back. Sigal was one of those pressured apartment-seekers. She showed up one day in Gadi's apartment which was up for rent and, although not quite sure she wanted it, left behind NIS 800 as a deposit. The very next day she decided against it and asked for her money back. When Gadi refused to hand it over, she took him to small claims court.

In court she explained to Justice Ma'ayan Ben Ari: "I first saw the apartment on a Friday and was interested in holding onto it. When I returned Sunday, Gadi told me that there had been considerable interest. Not yet sure of my decision, I left a deposit of good faith. When I decided not to take it after all, I returned at 2 P.M. on the very next day to inform Gadi of my decision. I had not signed any contract."

Gadi's version of events was different. "Sigal first came on Friday and said she was interested in the apartment. I called her later that day to confirm, and she repeated that she was interested. She came back Sunday for a second look, and gave me NIS 800 as a down payment toward the rent."

Sigal: "It never occurred to me that if I changed my mind so soon he would not return my money. I admit that I acted naively and that giving him the money was a mistake. I wanted to go over the contract one more time, and then changed my mind."

Ultimately, at the judge's suggestion, the two sides reached a compromise, with Gadi giving Sigal back NIS 400. The lesson to be learned here is that even in a high-pressure market, when renters have to act fast, they must be careful but decisive.

Without a realtor

Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court judge Yuval Gazit handled a more complex case, in which a realtor named Yochanan sued his client, Itai. Back in 2011, Itai showed up in Yochanan's office in Holon, seeking help in finding an apartment for himself and his girlfriend, as well as one for her parents. Yochanan took them to an apartment he had been dealing with for several years and, according to him, the trio were very keen on its size and location. Prior to that, he had them sign a commitment to pay him realtor's fees in the event that they signed a contract.

The trouble began when the landlord demanded a bank guarantee, as well as the signatures of two guarantors for the contract.

"They wanted to think it over," says Yochanan. "The next day Itai phoned, saying they needed more time. They procrastinated for a whole week, by which time I understood that they had lost interest. Since I deal with the apartment all the time, I asked the landlord for the keys."

To his amazement, the landlord then informed Yochanan that he had rented the apartment out to Itai's girlfriend's parents. When Yochanan demanded his fees, they replied that he "had not done anything to close the deal."

According to Itai, he was searching for an apartment with his girlfriend, now his wife. Yochanan took them to see one on Moshe Dayan Street, after they had indeed signed an agreement to pay him a commission. While they were seeing the place, Itai's girlfriend noticed another apartment for rent on the same street, and independently arranged with the landlord to see it. Only later did Yochanan suggest that they go see that apartment as well. The girlfriend then replied, according to Itai, that if the proposed apartment was indeed on 48 Moshe Dayan Street, she had seen it on the Yad2 Internet site and was not interested. Yochanan then said: "No problem, we'll work it out" - repeating this when she showed him the landlord's phone number as well.

When asked by the court what "working it out" meant, he did not have an answer. Itai claimed that Yochanan had added the address of the second apartment later, and said that "48 Moshe Dayan 48 is written in a different handwriting, it was not on the original document we signed."

Yochanan responded by saying that he often adds addresses in handwriting when taking clients to additional sites.

Itai's wife supports his version, claiming that the couple had searched the Internet and found several apartments, including the one on 48 Moshe Dayan Street. They wrote down the phone numbers of different landlords, including the one in question at the second apartment, and arranged to visit. When Yochanan subsequently said he would show them the same apartment, she showed him the phone number and told him she had already arranged to see it that evening. When he persisted in asking her to see the apartment, she told him her mother could not afford realtor's fees. He insisted, telling her they would work things out, and talking about how charming the landlord was. No document pertaining to that second apartment was signed.

The judge found in favor of Itai, stating that "he and his wife's version is more credible. Although it cannot be definitively proven that the disputed address was added later, the realtor's form was incorrectly filled in. The form clearly specifies a description of the property, including location, asking price, date, names and signatures. The defendant only signed at the bottom of the form, and not besides the particulars of any apartment. Thus, any number of further apartments could be added on later, without the defendant signing off on each individual one. I therefore rule that, since the preparation of the relevant form was flawed, and the defendant did not agree to pay realtor fees for this specific rental property, the claim for payment is rejected."

The judge also ordered Yochanan to pay Itai NIS 500.