Legal Ground: Not everyone likes it hot at home

Communal central heating systems can cause problems between tenants with different preferences.

Some like it hot. The trouble is, some don’t.
When the writers of this article came to Israel some 30 years ago, most of the apartment buildings in the country had communal central heating systems. The trouble was that where there are 20 apartment owners, there seem to be 20 different opinions as to the amount and degree of heating as well as the heating hours.
Some questioned the very necessity of heating altogether.
The disparity in income between various tenants led to arguments regarding the length of time heating systems were to be switched on. Some people leave early for work and do not benefit from earlier heating hours, and some pensioners are at home all day and thus want extended hours. Furthermore, anyone heating with soler (diesel fuel) knows of the exponential rise in the cost of heating systems that rely on this fuel. The rise of the price of fuel means that some people simply cannot afford heating.
Often, a small business or an office will share space in a building with residential apartments.
It is not uncommon for the building committee to decide to start the heating on winter evenings close to 7 p.m. – just as the business is winding down for the day and its workers leaving for home.
Even though they have no actual benefit from the central heating, the business finds itself with a monthly bill for the heat the rest of the building uses, which can amount to thousands of shekels.
Naturally, the arguments between apartment owners often ended up before the housing inspector, the quasi-judicial entity that has the authority in such disputes. Therefore, the Knesset legislated a legal route by which one of the apartment owners can choose to disconnect themselves from the central heating system in the building despite the objections of the other tenants.
Thankfully, most modern buildings in Israel today are built with a separate heating facility for each apartment. However, most of the housing stock in the country still has shared heating.
What do you have to do if you are unhappy with the rates the va’ad habayit (house committee) is charging you and would like to disconnect from the communal central heating system? Can you do it? The answer, in principle, is yes.
But if you look below at the rules that govern such disconnections, you might wish to weigh up cost to benefit.
Firstly, you have to take expert advice as to whether such a separation is physically feasible in your building. Will shutting down the heating flow to your individual apartment hamper the functioning of the communal system? Having determined that it’s possible (and that the price of disconnection meets your budgets), you then have to write a formal letter to your va’ad habayit informing them of your wish to disconnect from the communal system. It is important to know that your letter has to be written in accordance with the wording required by the law.
You have to undertake to pay all the costs of such disconnection and, more importantly, that you will continue to pay your share in the ongoing expenses of keeping the communal heating system in good repair even though you will not be utilizing it.
However, your costs are reduced to 40 percent of what you would have paid had you not disconnected (in the case of a heating system that does not provide heat but is restricted to supply hot water to the apartments, your contribution after the disconnection will be reduced to 25%). And just in case an apartment owner takes it into his head to surreptitiously reconnect himself to the system, the va’ad habayit is entitled, at any reasonable time, to enter the apartment to ensure that the disconnection is still in effect.
But what happens if the entire building wishes to divest itself of the communal heating system so that every apartment is granted autonomy over heating options – and one of the apartment owners objects? The law does not actually address this issue. A recent court ruling related to exactly such a case, where one tenant alone refused to participate in a mass disconnection and insisted that the entire system be retained solely for his benefit. After all, he claimed, he was within his rights in accordance with the law. The housing inspector in Netanya, Ada Frenkel, agreed that the law was not clear but rejected his claim in the spirit of the law. So, as a matter of public policy, the courts will recognize that some like it hot, and some don’t. Dr. Haim V. Katz is a senior partner in a law firm with offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv specializing in real-estate, commercial, litigation, family and probate law. Sam Katz is a jurist living in Jerusalem.

They have collaborated on several legal works on probate and land law, including the e-book Buying Your Home in Israel and the recently published Probate & Inheritance – The Complete Guide.