Question:

May I wash my car using the water from the fire hose found in the parking lot?

There is a main water meter for the building, and then the water passes through separate meters for each apartment. The water company adds the water usage of all the apartments and subtracts the total from the main meter. The balance is considered shared water usage and is divided equally amongst all the residents.

The building’s shared water is used for gardening and fire hoses. The vaad habayit permits the building cleaners to use the water from the fire hoses for cleaning.

A neighbor who does not have a car saw me using the shared water and called me a thief. Was I stealing?

Answer:

Once there is a fixed, agreed-upon formula regarding how to pay for the building’s water meter, you may freely use the water for your personal needs. The shared utilities (electricity and water) are meant for all the residents to use in the area that is jointly owned and jointly used. This includes the lobby, stairwell and parking lot.

Generally, the residents join together with the assumption that each resident may use the water for his personal needs. When a person uses the joint water for his needs the water used is considered his water. If the residents decided to allow the water use only for joint, building-wide purposes and not for each resident’s personal use, then that becomes the new standard. Often the vaad habayit protocol allows for votes on these types of issues that are binding on all the residents.

The same principle applies to joint electricity use. For example, if the joint electricity line services all the storerooms (machsanim), every resident can use the shared electricity for light and can use the outlets for personal needs. The residents joined together with the assumption that they would use the electricity for their personal needs. If, however, a few residents bring appliances into their storerooms, the other residents can object, claiming that the appliances use a lot of electricity and they never agreed that the shared electricity could be used for that purpose. If this claim can be validated, they can demand that those who use heavy appliances on a regular basis connect the electricity for their storerooms to their own electricity or cease to use the shared electricity. Since heavy appliances are generally not brought into storerooms, if they are used with great frequency it is reasonable to consider such electrical usage beyond the scope of the original agreement.

If there are only a few car owners and they use a lot of water when washing their cars with the shared water, the other residents might be able to object. If the car-washing significantly raises the joint water bill, the other residents may be able to claim that they did not enter the partnership with the assumption that a few residents would use such large quantities of water so often. If many residents use the shared water for washing cars, it may have been assumed that this would be considered normal use. Only a majority vote of the residents or a vote following the protocol agreed upon by the vaad habayitcan modify the status quo for water or electricity usage.

When the type of use that you wish to make of the shared water or electricity is standard (e.g., turning on the lights in your storeroom or washing your car), you may use as much as you like without being skimpy, but you should not act wastefully. Turn off the lights when they are not in use and do not let the water run for no reason. Keep an eye on how the children use the utilities.

When using the joint property (stairwell, parking lot or lobby), you should try to keep it clean. Anyone who carelessly dirties the joint property has to clean it at his own expense.

If the spigot broke through your negligence and water was wasted, you should pay for the lost water and fix the spigot. If it broke in normal use and the loss of water was not due to your negligence, you are not responsible for covering the entire loss. You must share in the expense equally with the rest of the residents. It is expected that equipment will malfunction and the vaad and residents accepted the shared water meter with the assumption that such events might occur. ((יסוד הדברים בנוי על מה שפסק המחבר סימן קע”ו ס”ח וז”ל השותפין שומרי שכר הן שאם נגנב או נאבד מהשותפות ברשות אחד מהם חייב באחריותו עכ”ל. ובסמ”ע שם ס”ק כ”ג מסביר דכל אחד עוסק ומשמר חלק חבירו בשכר שגם חבירו יתעסק וישמור את חלקו עכ”ל.

וע”ש בחכמת שלמה בגליון השו”ע דמחדש דאם הוא חפץ שכל אחד מהשותפים משתמש בו לזמן, ונאבד תחת יד אחד מהם, דאי היינו דנין אותו כש”ש ממילא בדבר שראוי להשתמש בו היה דינו כשואל וחייב אף באונסין, אך כד דייקינן ז”א, ולא הוי כשואל ואף לא כש”ש, אלא הרי הוא כשלו בזמן שהוא משתמש בו דבזה אמרינן יש ברירה, והוי כלוקח לזמן שדינו כשומר חנם ופטור מגניבה ואבידה. ומש”כ במחבר דשותפין כש”ש היינו בעסק שאינו עומד להשתמש בו.

וכעין זה י”ל בהשתמשות במים המשותפים. כשמשתמש לצרכו הוי כשלו, ואם סתם מבזבז מים של השותפין הוא חייב כש”ש.

ואף אם לא נקבל חידוש רש”ק לענין חפץ הראוי לתשמיש דהוי כשלו משום ברירה, מ”מ נראה פשוט דלענין שימוש המים שבכל פעם משתמש במים אחרים, כל אחד שלוקח מים הוי כשלו, וא”צ לדין ברירה. וע”ד כן נשתתפו שכ”א יכול להשתמש בו לצרכו.

))

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