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Consider the following law:

(2) A landlord seeking to increase the rent upon expiration of the term of a rental agreement of any duration shall notify the tenant in writing three months prior to the effective date of any increase in rent.

Suppose it is currently June 1, 2024. In common English, I think "three months prior" could mean "sometime in March" or "exactly March 1".

Does the legal definition of "three months prior" match with exactly one of these interpretations, or could it be interpreted either way?

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  • I've never personally heard, in ordinary English, of "3 months prior" meaning "any time during the calendar month which is 3 months before the current calendar month" as you are suggesting. Perhaps it is a regional thing. Would you also consider "2 weeks ago" to mean any day from Monday to Sunday during the week before last? I would only ever interpret it to mean 14 days ago.
    – JBentley
    Mar 22 at 8:34
  • @JBentley If I said "I went to Hawaii 3 years ago", would you think I meant March 22, 2021 or sometime in 2021?
    – Barmar
    Mar 22 at 21:05

2 Answers 2

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There is no universal "legal definition" of "three months prior."

If this was found in a statute, a meta Interpretation Act might specify the calculation of time periods based on months. E.g. Canada's Interpretation Act says:

Where there is a reference to a period of time consisting of a number of months after or before a specified day, the period is calculated by (a) counting forward or backward from the specified day the number of months, without including the month in which that day falls; (b) excluding the specified day; and (c) including in the last month counted under paragraph (a) the day that has the same calendar number as the specified day or, if that month has no day with that number, the last day of that month.

British Columbia's Interpretation Act says:

(1) Subject to subsection (2), the beginning or end of a period of one month or consecutive months, expressed in relation to a reference day, is to be determined as follows: (a) if the reference day is before the period, by going forward to and including the date numerically corresponding to the reference day in the calendar month in which the period begins or ends, as the case may be; (b) if the reference day is after the period, by going backward to and including the date numerically corresponding to the reference day in the calendar month in which the period begins or ends, as the case may be.

(2) If a period described in subsection (1) is expressed as "clear" months or "at least" or "not less than" a number of months,

(a) the beginning or end of the period, as determined under subsection (1)(a), is one day later, and

(b) the beginning or end of the period, as determined under subsection (1) (b), is one day earlier.

(3) If the beginning or end of a period determined under subsection (1) or subsections (1) and (2), as applicable, would fall on a date that does not occur in the calendar month in which the period begins or ends, the period begins or ends, as the case may be, on the last day of that month.

Outside of a statute, such as in a contract, the right or obligation being described will take its meaning from the full context of the agreement, including the background circumstances. See generally Sattva Capital Corp. v. Creston Moly Corp., 2014 SCC 53.

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The other answer relates just to Canada, but by exploring your link to the Revised Code of Washington, I have found the State's legal definition of the word 'month' at §1.16.060

The word "month" or "months," whenever the same occurs in the statutes of this state now in force, or in statutes hereinafter enacted, or in any contract made in this state, shall be taken and construed to mean "calendar months."

So 3 calendar months prior to June 1st would be March 1st

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