What time limit applies to a claim for rent?

Romain and Wolfson v Scuba TV Ltd [1997] Q.B. 887; [1996] 3 W.L.R. 117

Of interest to Landlords and Tenants

In the current times, rent payments can fall overdue and landlords often generously accommodate delay.  But landlords should be aware of the time limit that applies to claims for rental arrears.  Equally, tenants should know when the landlord will no longer be able to pursue them for historic arrears.

The Issue

The ordinary time limit for claims arising from contracts is 6 years and deeds is 12 years.  Rent payment obligations can arise under either contract or deeds, so which time limit applies?

The Law

Neither of the general time limits applying to contracts and deeds apply to rent arrears; there is a specific and distinct time limit of “6 years” for claims for rent, s.19 Limitation Act 1980 – that this time limit matches the ordinary time limit on claims arising from contracts is a coincidence.


Landlords should be clear on whether they are accommodating delayed payment as a matter of generosity or commercial sense or whether they are waiving their right to rent – landlords ought not to be accidentally foregoing their right to the rent.  The situation becomes that little bit murkier when it comes to pursuing guarantors; the 6 year time limit may only start after the demand is made against the guarantor and not when the same rent became due against the tenant.

Tenants should remember that this legal shield (time limitation) will need to be actively raised by the them in the form of a time limitation defence; it is not a matter the court will automatically raise.

The curious consequence of this time limit is that a claim may be brought for different heads of damages / rent under the same lease with different time limits applying to different heads of loss, e.g. 6 years for rent arrears and 12 years for dilapidations.  In such cases, there may be a good time limitation defence against some parts of the claim and not others.

If any readers have questions on this article, they will be happily received @ taj.uddin@gcp-barristers.com.

Taj Uddin, Barrister
Guildhall Chambers Portsmouth
Practising in London and the South (Salisbury to Brighton, Oxford to IoW)

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