Many leases provide for annual rent to be paid in four equal instalments "on the usual quarter days" and clients are often surprised to learn that these are 25th March, 24th June, 29th September and 25th December.
What are the usual quarter days?
These days are not, as one might expect, the first days of the first, third, sixth and ninth months of the calendar year and the quarters which result are not all of the same length.
The explanation lies rooted in the past when England was largely an agricultural country and labourers were hired on annual contracts.
Most people could not read or write and so there needed to be a simple system that everybody understood so that they knew when such contracts would begin and end.
The Church was an important part of most peoples’ lives and so the Church’s calendar was followed. Under that calendar each new year began on 25th March (the Feast of the Annunciation) known as Lady Day, so that became the date from which employment contracts ran. That date then also came to be the date from which to calculate other important financial transactions, and further dates evolved upon which payments, including rent, had to be made.
So that these could be remembered easily, important fixed religious feast days were chosen throughout the year, approximately three months apart, to split the year into quarters hence the name "Quarter Days".
The four quarter days in England and Wales accordingly came to be Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer Day (24th June, the Feast of St John the Baptist), Michaelmas Day (29th September, the Feast of St Michael and all Angels) and Christmas Day (25th December).
Different days tended to be used in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland.
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar, the Gregorian Calendar, to reform the previous Julian Calendar and to bring it more into line with the lunar year so that Easter Day could be calculated. As a result 10 days were skipped over and lost from that year.
In 1752 the law was changed so that each calendar year started on 1st January but the way in which people had become accustomed to pay their rent did not change and the "rent year" continued to commence on 25th March. In many leases, that remains the case to this day.
More modern quarter days
Some landlords have, however, moved away from the traditional quarter days and many modern leases now provide for quarterly rents to be paid on 1st January, 1st April, 1st July and 1st October.
By way of an aside, as well being the first day of the "rent year", Lady Day was also the start of the tax year. When Pope Gregory introduced his new calendar in 1582 the problems associated with the loss of the ten days were too much to cope with so the start of the tax year remained as the "old" Lady Day. This became 6th April under the new calendar which explains why, more than 400 years later, this remains for us the date upon which each new tax year starts.