Starting in November, the sidewalks adjacent to Tel Aviv's cafes and restaurants fill with enclosures, to protect al fresco patrons from the cold and the rain. Owners must obtain a permit from the city to erect the steel-and-glass structures, but are they legal?

About 10 days ago, a judge sided with a pair of storekeepers and prohibited the cafe next door from putting up the seasonal enclosure. According to the ruling, handed down in the Tel Aviv Administrative Affairs Court, the city does not have the authority to issue such permits, which it has been doing on the basis of a municipal bylaw. Such enclosures, the court said, require building permits, in accordance with the state Planning and Building Law.

The shopkeepers, a couple, sued the Tel Aviv municipality and the owners of the neighboring branch of the 10 Idelson cafe chain, demanding not only an end to the practice of installing a sidewalk enclosure in the winter but also an end to all "private-commercial" use of the sidewalk in front of the establishment.

They said the enclosure, and the outdoor tables and chairs used throughout the year, constituted a major nuisance because they hid their store. Their lawyer argued that the permit for the enclosure should be based on the Planning and Building Law, rather than on a city bylaw.

In its response, the Tel Aviv municipality argued that the bylaw allowed for tables, chairs and enclosures to be placed in public areas and also balanced their need with the public's right to unencumbered use of the sidewalk. It further argued that enclosure permits are not under the purview of state building laws.

Judge Sarah Brosh found for the petitioner with regard to the enclosure, ruling that it does require a building permit, but not with regard to the tables and chairs.

"This is a huge bureaucratic problem and I don't know how business owners and the city will cope with applications for business permits," the chairman of the Israel Restaurant Association told Haaretz.

He added that the organization recently received a letter from the head of the city's business licensing department, Elhanan Meshi, indicating that while enclosure permits would be issued as usual this year, "they're looking into how to allow for these enclosures without running into complicated bureaucratic processes" next year.

The Tel Aviv municipality said in a statement: "We are familiar with the ruling and the municipality is examining its options, including the possibility of appealing the judgment."