Halacha for Monday 15 Iyar 5778 April 30 2018

A Railing Around the Roof of an Apartment Building

Question: I live in an apartment building. Can I compel the other tenants of the building to make a railing around the building’s roof?

Answer: In the previous Halacha, we have discussed the positive Torah commandment to build a railing for one’s roof so that no one falls from it.

The Rambam writes that one who does not build a railing around his roof has nullified the positive commandment of “And you shall make a railing for your roof” and has transgressed the negative Torah commandment of “And you shall not place blood in your home.”

Indeed, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch added a special Chapter at the end of his epic work, the Shulchan Aruch, where he explains the laws of building a railing and other laws regarding protecting one’s life; this is Chapter 427 of Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat, the final chapter of the Shulchan Aruch. There in Section 6, Maran writes as follows: “One who leaves one’s roof without a railing has nullified a positive commandment and transgressed a negative commandment, as the Torah states, ‘And you shall not place blood in your home.’”

Regarding a jointly-owned roof, such as the roof of every apartment building, it would seem that there is no obligation to build a railing around it, for the Torah states, “And you shall make a railing for your roof” and not “for the roof” which implies that the Torah only commands a private owner to make a railing for his own roof; however, a roof belonging to several partners should be exempt from this Mitzvah.

Nevertheless, the Rambam (Chapter 11 of Hilchot Rotze’ach U’Shmirat Nefesh) writes: “A house belonging to two partners is obligated in a railing, for the verse states, ‘When someone falls from it.’ We see that the Torah makes this Mitzvah contingent upon the individual who falls. If so, why does the Torah say ‘your roof’? This indeed comes to exclude synagogues and Houses of Study which are not meant for residential purposes.”

This means that the primary issue which establishes whether or not there is an obligation to build a railing is if there is a concern that someone may fall off the roof. The reason why the Torah uses the language of making a railing for “your roof” is in order to exclude synagogues and Houses of Study where there is no obligation to make a railing, for people do not dwell there on a permanent basis and the Torah only obligates one to do so for a house where people reside on a permanent basis. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (ibid, Section 3) rules likewise.

Thus, one of the building’s tenants may certainly compel the rest of the tenants to build a railing around the roof (even without this reason, one tenant can compel the others since it is customary to build such a railing).

Summary: All of an apartment building’s tenants must participate in the cost of making a railing around the building’s roof so that no one falls off of it.

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