Rent Out of Control

By Yossi Golds

Many of us have heard of the hikes in rent prices in the chareidi neighborhoods in Yerushalayim, on the part of unscrupulous and greedy landlords, who have recently come under the impression that the sky is no longer the limit, and are raising the prices without blinking or thinking twice.

Until now, many of them have managed to get away with it — to the detriment of many families.

No longer, say the local Rabbanim, as well as residents, who seek to live in Yerushalayim, but at ordinary prices.

“It all began during COVID,” begins Reb Yitzchok Roth, a local askan who is deeply involved in the rent saga in the Romema neighborhood in Yerushalayim.

“COVID?” we ask. “What hasn’t been blamed on COVID?”

Yes, COVID. Now, we are b’chasdei Shamayim back to nearly normal life; planes are coming and going (besides for the luggage, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss…) and Israel’s borders are now open for all. But let’s go back just over a year ago, when things were totally different. The overseas couples were stuck overseas, and those in Israel were in Israel. This had an effect on the local rent market, as many apartments were left empty, due to the families not returning and new couples not coming from abroad and, as a result, the prices went down. Many apartments were also rented to Israeli families, who generally wouldn’t come to live in these areas, but the prices were low so they did rent them.

Last year, or more precisely about eight months ago, when the skies were finally opened for all, there was a new and increased demand on apartments in these so-called American neighborhoods. And so, the prices began to rise.

We all know of supply and demand. That’s how the markets work. What was the surprise here?

What happened here was that the metavchim, the agents, chimed in and tried to get their share in the market influx. In other words, to utilize the market, and for their own personal gain.

In Israel, the agents receive a month of the rent for every deal they close, so from their point of view, every high rental closed is a good deal for them.

From there, things started spiraling out of control very quickly. All it takes is one or two families or couples to pay the overrated prices and from that, it’s all a domino effect and it reaches each and every family renting in the neighborhoods.

Which neighborhoods are we talking about?

Predominately, Romema and its extended boundaries, but also Ramat Eshkol, Ezras Torah; in a nutshell — wherever there are overseas families living.

Nu, so perhaps that’s the answer. It’s all being paid by Uncle Sam, or the parents of the young couples. What’s the issue with that?

Simply put, that’s wrong. We’re not talking about the young couples who come to “do the year” in Eretz Yisrael, who are willing to pay whatever they’re asked.

Who may be the very ones who are behind this price surge …

Very possible. As I will explain.

As I said, it’s not about the young couples who have their parents’ support for the year or two they spend in Eretz Yisrael, but rather the ones being hard hit are those families who have made the decision to live in Eretz Yisrael, to dedicate their lives to this goal, and are now families with six or seven children, or more, kein ayin hara, and are now self-supporting — on Israeli terms and wages, mind you — and now for these families to have their monthly rents raised by 30-40%, or at times even more, is unheard of; it’s not the Yiddishe way of doing things.

So once this surge finished, with the prices rising by “just another thousand shekel” and then it became “only two thousand” — and from there the sky has become the limit, and soon enough there were no apartments available in these areas. 

And then the next stage, the nastiest of the lot, occurred. This is something that is unheard of; not overseas, not in Israel, and especially not in chareidi communities:

The agents called up the landlords with a new idea. “Now that all the available apartments are taken, the demand is sky-high; let’s exploit the situation to the maximum,” they said.

How about booting out the current renters, and then you’ll be free to raise the price as much as you want, with no hard feelings?” the agents suggested to the landlords, who were more than willing to comply with this extravaganza bonanza of a deal. The “deal of the century” doesn’t only belong to Donald Trump.

Don’t the landlords feel bad about this? After all, to basically throw a family out on the street for a few thousand shekel isn’t the Yiddishe way of doing business.

The agents come to the landlords with smooth talk. “Look how much you’re losing by keeping this family. Don’t be a batlan; move ahead and get tens of thousands of shekalim more a year. You’ve got a good investment, but you should be making much more.”

And who won’t go for that? So from there on, the landlords upped it a level, even more than the agents. And from there, the prices have skyrocketed, even higher than the highest buildings in Romema.

And in the last month or so —

— things have gone totally crazy, totally out of hand.

An apartment that went for 12,000 shekel should be rented now for 18,000? It makes no sense. The apartments simply aren’t worth that much.

On a personal note, three weeks ago, my baal dirah, (landlord) called me and told me that he was called by an agent who told him that he easily could take another 4 or 5 thousand shekel for my apartment, so he’s calling me to let me know that either I pay up (and up) or I’m out.

Once I received that call, I decided that enough is enough. I went to meet with several Rabbanim and I explained them the situation in detail. This is outrageous — to have pay another $1,200 a month, on the whim of an agent?

Once the Rabbanim became involved, things started moving quickly from there.

Harav Yisrael Berger, shlita, Rav of the Ganei Geulah neighborhood and a noted Dayan, released a letter last week, and other Rabbanim and Dayanim are set to release their letters in the coming days.

What can the Rabbanim do?

The Rabbanim have delved into the topic, and have learned the material properly and in depth. They have seen the figures of how much rent has risen in other cities in Israel, in other countries, what is considered a normal rise and what is considered totally out of touch with reality.

One of the problems we are facing is that there is no rent protection in Israel. No such laws exist here. And this has been exploited by the landlords. They know that the new school year starts in just a few weeks, so there’s no time for people to reorganize their lives and their families on such short notice — be it move to a different city or overseas — and therefore they take whatever price they can get. And they get.

In New York, for example, there are laws about evicting tenants; you can’t just throw people out from one day to the next. But in Israel, nothing. No protection.

Some of the landlords will claim that they have raised their prices due to the inflation that has also shot up in Israel, due to the general cost of real estate that has risen in Israel, in these neighborhoods, and in the world.

The Rabbanim analyzed the markets, and have added all these calculations into the equation.

With all these factors in mind, and being generous, there is no reason for the prices to go as high as they have gone.

There are those who claim that the price of the rent is based on the value of the apartment, and since the real estate has risen considerably, so should the rent prices.

So we need to look at and analyze other places. Let’s take Be’er Sheva, for example. The prices went up by 17%, while the rent has only risen by 6%.

Beit Shemesh, for instance, goes for about 20,000 shekel a meter, but the rent for a 100-sq-m apartment is about 3,500 shekel, since there are many available apartments.

On the other hand, in Ramat Shlomo, which sells for the same price as Beit Shemesh, rent is about 6,500 shekel for a 100-meter apartment. So it’s definitely not correlated.

Back to your own apartment, what’s your next step?

I have taken my landlord to a Din Torah for raising the prices so drastically, and I don’t know what this will lead to. If I lose the Din Torah, I will be forced to pay $1,200 more. I simply don’t have anywhere to go; I can’t move my family and my kids so close to Elul. Even though I know, and the landlord knows, that this price just doesn’t make sense.

Where do we, as a whole, go from here?

The main issue, as it stands now, is that the agents are no longer needed to tell the landlords of the price they can try to get; the landlords have taught themselves the tricks of the trade — and even better, I may say. And they need to be put in place. Chas v’shalom, no one is out to hurt anyone’s parnassah, but we have a Torah, we have a Shulchan Aruch, and there are ways of going about this. This isn’t a halachah column, per se, but I can tell you that there are various issurim d’Oraisa involved in this.

So with all that in mind, the Rabbanim and Dayanim have set out a list of prices, per room, per square meter, whatever their exact calculations are, and whatever is within this price range is considered halachically approved.

The other issue is that there are still those young couples or families who are willing to spend the extra few thousand shekels, and they will unfortunately keep undermining the hard work put in by all to keep the prices stable. Be it a young couple whose rent is being covered by the avreich’s parents or the shver and shvigger, or a larger family who can manage to afford the extra few thousand a month. They need to know that they are chav l’achrina, hurting others. And not just another few families, but this irresponsible act on their part could leave hundreds of families on the street. It’s as simple —and unfortunate — as that.

It’s not like these young couples have made their minds up to settle in these neighborhoods. For them, it’s a come and go. Come for a few years, and if it costs another few thousand dollars, let it be so. And these things have a ripple effect on all of us. One couple overpaying drives all the prices up.

That’s what it all boils down to. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh.

If we, the renters, will stand strong on our part of the deal, and the landlords will comply with the Rabbanim’s guidelines, we will be able to continue to live in these neighborhoods, for the to’eles of all sides.

I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing of such a thing — that a frum Yid should evict another frum family, just to whack up the rent? But here it has become the norm, in the frum neighborhoods of Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh!

Part of the letter of the Rabbanim is also to raise awareness.

At one of the meetings, an honorable Rosh Kollel of 150 avreichim stood up and said, “Rabbosai. They, the landlords, think that we’re talking about going or not going to Switzerland for the summer for these families. It’s not true at all. For many of these families, it’s the question of having fleishigs during the week or only on Shabbos!”

It’s down to that, and we hope the tzibbur will understand the implications of their actions.

We are now in the Three Weeks of mourning for the Beis Hamikdash and the destruction of Yerushalayim. What are your thoughts with these topics coming to light punkt in these weeks?

There is a well-known Chazal that before Moshiach comes there will be a rush on living in Eretz Yisrael.

May we be zocheh that it should be speedily in our days, but at decent prices …

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