Mezuzahs and Apartment Complexes
You may have heard about the new statute in Texas allowing tenants to put mezuzot on their exterior doorways. Apparently, this was in reaction to a situation where a resident was prohibited from putting up a mezuzah by the rules of his apartment community.
I am curious what Jewish law would say about this situation. If a Jew finds himself living in an apartment complex that prohibits hanging anything in doorways, what is he supposed to do? Defy the ban and hang a mezuzah anyway? Move and incur substantial inconvenience, costs, and possibly lease violation penalties? Or do the property rights of the apartment complex owner simply override the biblical commandment?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
We all applaud the wisdom and fortitude of the governor who signed the bill you mentioned into law – that apartment owners do not have the right to prevent Jews from attaching a mezuzah onto their doorposts.
What you raise is a fascinating question: In a situation where no such legislation is in place, apartment owners would have the legal right to forbid their tenants to attach a mezuzah to their doorways. This would raise numerous questions, as you mentioned.
According to Jewish law one cannot fulfill a mitzvah through violating someone else's property rights; to do so could be considered a type of theft. A mitzvah performed through stolen property is not considered a mitzvah; rather it's considered a sin.
This issue is discussed by the Sages in regard to the mitzvah of Sukkah; one cannot build a Sukkah structure on the property of another without their permission. At times apartment complexes have ordered a Jewish tenant to remove their Sukkah, which creates a serious problem; to defy that order and use the Sukkah anyway could be self-defeating, as the Sukkah may be disqualified according to Jewish law (as a "stolen Sukkah"). This is besides the perhaps larger issue of Chillul Hashem, or the desecration of God's Name, for a Jew to openly defy the wishes or directives of the owners in the name of a mitzvah.
The very same concern could apply to a mezuzah which is attached against the legally-binding directives of the owners; one would arguably not fulfill the mitzvah if he or she would defy that order and attach the mezuzah. (This is besides the above issue of Chillul Hashem).
As far as costs, penalties and difficulties in breaking a lease and relocating, Jewish law would require one to pay even up to 20% of their assets to fulfill a positive mitzvah; if the loss would be more than that amount they would not be required to do so.
The simplest solution in such a situation is somewhat of a surprise! The ideal place to attach a mezuzah is on the outside doorpost to be seen when entering the home. According to most authorities, however, in situations where that would not be possible, one fulfills the mitzvah by attaching the mezuzah onto the inner side of the doorpost as well. This ruling is utilized, at times, when the structure of the door does not permit the attachment of the mezuzah on the outer right side of the doorway (and to attach a mezuzah on the left side is not a fulfillment of the mitzvah).
If the attachment outside the door is not possible for other than structural reasons, such as the directives of the owners, one should attach the mezuzah to the inside of the doorpost and would therefore not need to relocate to fulfill this mitzvah.