Sharing an apartment has many advantages. But it can also lead to conflicts. That’s why the law sets out a number of rights and obligations that co-tenants must respect.
A co-tenant is more than a simple occupant
A co-tenant is a person who rents an apartment (or other residential rental housing) with one or several other tenants. When you become a co-tenant, you promise in a written or verbal lease to pay a portion of the rent and to use the apartment responsibly.
Being a co-tenant is different from being an occupant. An occupant just lives in the apartment but has no obligations toward the landlord because there is no lease between them.
For example, imagine that Pascal and Stephen are co-tenants, and each pays half the rent. For the next two months, Pascal’s sister Melanie will be living with them and has agreed to pay $300 for that period. If she does not pay, the landlord must claim this amount from Pascal and Stephen because the landlord has no lease with Melanie.
What are my responsibilities as a co-tenant?
A co-tenant has the same responsibilities as a tenant. Both must
- pay the rent,
- use the rental unit responsibly,
- not change the form or purpose for which the rental unit is used, and
- act in a way that does not disturb the other tenants’ normal enjoyment of their housing.
What happens when my co-tenant doesn’t pay his or her share of the rent?
One of the main responsibilities of a co-tenant is to pay the rent. But sometimes a co-tenant might not pay his or her share. Can the landlord ask you to pay the full rent in this case? It depends. If you have a “joint” obligation to pay, then you don’t have to pay the full rent. But if the obligation is “solidary,” you do.
- You have a joint obligation if each co-tenant is only responsible for his or her share of the total rent. Let’s say that Christine and Stephanie signed a lease together. If the rent is $600 and Christine doesn’t pay, Stephanie cannot be asked to pay more than $300.
If the lease doesn’t specify anything about the type of obligation, then the obligation is joint.
Take note: Your landlord is not required to accept only half the rent. If your co-tenant is more than three weeks late and you don’t pay her part of the rent, the landlord can ask the Tribunal administratif du logement (TAL, formerly Régie du logement or rental board) to cancel the lease.
- On the other hand, if the obligation to pay the rent is solidary, then the landlord can request the full rent from each co-tenant. A solidary obligation must be specifically stated in the lease. For example, suppose Marc and Matthew sign a lease as co-tenants. If Marc does not pay his share of the rent, the landlord can require Matthew to pay the full amount.
Careful! When tenants are married or living in a civil union, the obligation is always solidary if the lease was signed to meet the current needs of the family.
What happens when the lease is renewed or modified?
As a rule, the landlord must send a notice of renewal or modification to each co-tenant separately, even if they are living at the same address. Each tenant can then make his or her own decision, independent of the other co-tenants.
For example, imagine that Thomas and Sebastian each receive a notice of renewal. Thomas decides not to renew his lease and informs both the landlord and his co-tenant. Sebastian decides to stay. The lease will be renewed in Sebastian’s name alone, and he will be responsible for the full rent.
Also, the co-tenants can respond differently to a landlord’s plans to modify the lease.
To learn more about lease renewals and modifications, see our article Renewing a Residential Lease and Rent Increases.
As a co-tenant, can I sublet or assign (transfer) my lease?
In general, nothing stops you from subletting or transferring your lease. But you still have to send a written notice to your landlord about the sublease or transfer. The notice must include the name and address of the person you want to sublet or transfer your lease to, as well as the date this is to take effect.
Your landlord may only refuse the sublease or transfer for a serious reason. He must inform you of the refusal, and tell you why, within 15 days after receiving your notice.
Your co-tenant can refuse the sublease or transfer in some situations. To learn more, contact the TAL.
If your co-tenant or landlord refuses the sublease or transfer, you can ask the TAL to make a decision. To learn more, see our article Assigning a Lease or Subletting.
As a co-tenant, what remedies do I have against my landlord?
Tenants and co-tenants both have the same remedies against landlords. If your landlord does not respect her legal responsibilities, you can ask the TAL to order the landlord to respect her responsibilities or to give you compensation (money).
What if my co-tenant dies?
If your co-tenant dies, you can stay in the apartment. If you are just an occupant, you can also stay in the apartment under some conditions.