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Have you lent someone money? If so, be wary of the due date. Based on a Supreme Court ruling, this may not be what it seems

Have you lent someone money? If so, be wary of the due date. Based on a Supreme Court ruling, this may not be what it seems

17.4.2012 14:16
Autor: Richard Hamran, KSB

The lender’s apparent upper hand in the lender-borrower relationship conceals unexpected pitfalls following a Supreme Court ruling.

Imagine that you enter into a loan agreement under which the borrower agrees to repay the loan on demand. A year or two passes and, because you do not for the moment need the money back, you wait and do not call the loan in. You believe that the statutory limitation period is on your side and cannot start to run before the due date of the loan, which is the moment when you demand repayment. You do not worry that time is passing. Big mistake. You may not have the chance to get your money back once three years has elapsed from the time when the loan was granted.

The catch is the three-year limitation period

It is wrong to believe that the statutory limitation period begins on the due date of the loan. On the contrary, whoever “keeps track” of the three-year limitation period from time when the money was loaned is in the right. At first glance this conclusion is not clear when reading applicable provisions of the Civil Code, but it is in fact rooted in the Supreme Court’s case law of more than 20 years.

Last year the issue re-emerged in a case that reached the Czech Supreme Court. Certain parties entered into a loan agreement under which the loan was to be repaid on the lender’s demand. The lender demanded repayment; however, after almost a year of waiting for the borrower to repay the loan, the lender filed a lawsuit. In the first two instances, the defendant was not successful in claiming that the demand was made three years after the loan was granted (and the debt was established). Both courts ruled that the lawsuit was filed on time since three years had not lapsed from the time when the lender demanded repayment. The defendant was unable to defend his position.

However, the courts were overruled by the Supreme Court, which found their conclusions to be incorrect. The Court reiterated that, when no particular due date is agreed or otherwise determined, the limitation period starts on the day after the debt comes into being. This implies that the lender may even demand the loan to be repaid (and exercise his rights) on the day after it is granted. The day decisive for the beginning of the limitation period is therefore the day following the establishment of the so-agreed legal relationship and not the due date of the loan (the first day after the lender demands repayment).

To justify the opinion that the beginning of the limitation period cannot be coupled with the due date of the loan, the Supreme Court held that, in the given scenario, one could postpone the beginning of the limitation period almost indefinitely.

What the Supreme Court held is not accepted unequivocally. Critics claim that the ruling confuses the lender’s right to have the loan repaid with the lender’s right to demand repayment. In other words, the right to demand is vested in the lender when the loan is made, while the right to have the loan repaid depends on the demand. Each right is subject to an independent three-year limitation period.

One opinion favours legal certainty while the other favours the freedom of lenders. However, before the case law responds to the critics’ opinions, I recommend that the current conservative principle is followed. To avoid any doubt, let me add that the conclusion outlined in this article only applies to obligations and commitments subject to the Civil Code. Commercial obligations and commitments where parties agree to leave the due date to the lender’s discretion are, on the contrary, subject to a limitation period that commences on the due date determined by the lender.

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