Nowadays when we rent a property it will include an amount of money that we are required to pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly, to be resident there. This amount is to be paid regularly during the duration of the rental period and is likely, subject to being changed on the owner's side, the same.
This was not always the case however. For several of the leases we hold the payments might be required on the quarter days, Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer Day (24th June, Michaelmas Day (29th September) and Christmas Day (25th December) or perhaps yearly, such as at Michaelmas.
Also common among our older leases is the first quarter or year rent being a peppercorn. Under English law for a contract to be considered binding a 'consideration' must be offered by each party to the contract1. In the case of some of the leases presented here the duration of the contracts could be long, e.g. for 80 years and it seems common to offer the first period to the next quarter day or year for 'free.' However the owner could not do this without invalidating the contract and thus the requirement for 'a peppercorn,' sometimes only to be supplied upon request from the prospective renter.
'Peppercorn rent' is a term still used today and generally indicates a nominal amount (perhaps a £1 or a little more) in order to ensure the legality of a contract. It also does not only apply to the rental of properties; another place where it is used is during the publication of journal articles and the assigning of copyright from the author to the journal. It is very rare for the peppercorn rent to be an actual peppercorn anymore but one example that still exists is the Old State House in Bermuda.
1. Durant, Stuart, "Peppercorn Rents," Gardner Leader (2012), accessed 11 September 2016.