By: Meoros HaDaf Hayomi
Approaching retirement, Reuven sold his shop and, in the purchaser’s presence, began to clear out his personal effects. The new owner was astounded, though, when Reuven ordered the movers to dismantle a partition forming a wall in the middle of the shop and bring it for storage in his home. The partition, he claimed, served no current purpose but was installed long ago only to reduce the shop’s area and thus avoid paying a high municipal tax. The new owner retorted that the partition was just like any other wall, surely included in the sale. Rav Moshe Feinstein justified Reuven (Igros Moshe, I, 53) as Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 214:11) rules, in accordance with our sugya, that decorative window frames are excluded from the sale of a home, shop, etc., because they are not one of the items that give a house its name. Likewise the partition, which had been installed for extraneous reasons, was superfluous for the shop and excluded from the sale.
What is Sold with a House?
Commenting on our sugya, the Rishonim indicate that anything not affixed to a dwelling is excluded from its sale, unless otherwise specified, and anything affixed thereto and needed for normative habitation, e.g. doors or windows, are included.
Keys Now and Then
Keys are virtually the only items now defined differently than in Talmudic times. The Mishnah (65a) states that keys were excluded from the sale of property. They were not attached to a house or the like and came in just a few models, fitting the simpler locks of the era. Slightly altered, a key could fit other locks and therefore could not be defined as unique to any house. A modern key fits only a certain lock and must be included in the sale. HaGaon Rav Yaakov Bloy (Pischei Choshen, VII, 14, S.K. 64) adds that as purchasers of property now take care to prevent strangers from having keys, former owners must relinquish all keys to a new resident.
Lighting fixtures sold with a home, office or the like must be in working condition, being essential for habitation. However, a seller may remove chandeliers present at the sale and replace them with cheaper fixtures, as they are merely decorative.
Wall safes may likewise be removed, being non-essential.
These fixtures present a serious problem. About 30 years ago, all halachic authorities would agree that air-conditioners were luxuries not assumed to be included with homes. Thirty years from now, all will apparently define them as essential items for normal habitation. Today, then, we are in a dubious interim that requires asking a Rav for a decision according to local conditions.
Inventorying the Property
In conclusion, we cite Rav Y. Bloy (ibid), that sellers and buyers would act wisely to list the articles included in the sale in writing. Rambam, albeit, asserts that local custom determines practice (Hilchos Mechirah, 26) and halachic rulings are meant to solve problems where there is no obvious custom. Still, there may always be some item open to debate.