The legal term “reasonable time” can come up in two different contexts, one pertaining to contract law and another dealing with restrictions governments can place on events and public gatherings. In both cases, this term has been criticized for being subjective and vague, as it does not clearly define what a reasonable time is, and this has been a topic of litigation in some courts. The intended meaning is usually clear from the context.
In the first sense, reasonable time can come up in the context of a clause in a contract requiring people to do something “within a reasonable time.” In this case, it is defined as the time frame seen in similar circumstances. Someone might argue that people should be able to respond to an offer within 10 business days, for example, allowing for transit in the mail, discussions with other people involved in the decision, and so forth. Likewise, some laws set a reasonable time for people to exercise their rights before they lapse; a person cannot sue a landlord 50 years later for a violation of landlord-tenant law, for example.
The problem with reasonable time clauses in contracts and the law is the lack of definition. People can argue for a variety of time frames in these situations. This may lead to confusion. Providing a more clear outline, like giving a specific time limit, eliminates confusion and ensures people know what is expected of them. In many regions, attorneys and lawmakers have been advised to avoid using the “reasonable time” phrasing to avoid problems with legal matters.
When people do encounter a contract or a law where this phrase comes up, it is advisable to ask an attorney for more information. In the case of a contract, people can request that the document be rewritten with more clear guidance to minimize the possibility of a dispute in the future.
The second meaning of this term refers to reasonable time restrictions governments may be allowed to place on gatherings. These allow governments to turn down permits for gatherings that might be disruptive. In a municipality where people are expected to remain quiet between set hours, for example, the municipality could turn down a permit for a noisy event during these hours, on the grounds that a more appropriate time should be chosen. While restricting the time of a gathering might be considered an infringement of civil rights, if a municipality can argue that it is in the interests of the public, it will be permissible.