What Will Happen to Our Cottage? The Co-Owners Predicament

Cottaging with family and friends is a quintessential part of summer life in Canada and a beloved part of many childhood memories.

Unfortunately, this sentimental value intertwined with  many cottages makes them a common target for estate disputes and conflicts, especially when there are co-owners involved.



"What we are really challenging is the family identity when we say this actual memory or this thing that we all share is going to now belong to one person. Would you give your family history to anyone? Of course not." Barbara Benoliel, Cottage Succession Mediator, CBC Radio


The looming fear of “what happens when” is a reality for many who co-own properties, especially with an increasingly aging Canadian population, but there is a solution.


Cottage co-ownership agreements can help you to avoid disagreements over costs such as renovation costs and property taxes or other disputes such as summer schedules. Continue reading to discover how to avoid co-ownership predicaments your family may encounter and the unspoken advantages of entering a co-ownership agreement.


Common Co-Ownership Disagreements & Solutions

1. Property Maintenance


While the main concerns co-owners have typically relate to taxes and personal issues relating to the estate, simple property maintenance is an unexpected cause of friction that many do not anticipate.


Often the financial responsibilities associated with things like upgrades and repairs can strain relationships and put the property into a state of chaos. For example, one owner may be interested in investing more into the property renovations while another may have more time to invest in performing repairs.


This may end with one family member feeling as though they deserve more ownership of the cottage than the other.


These four steps are the ideal method to avoid cottage co-ownership disputes over property maintenance:

  1. Consult with your co-owner before performing any maintenance, do not discuss it after it has already been complete.

  2. Set a feasible annual budget for cottage maintenance and include a reasonable amount for emergency repairs.

  3. Schedule a realistic time-frame for getting projects complete; stagger your upgrades on a priority basis.

  4. Set aside specific times for everyone to complete large projects together (i.e. opening and closing weekend for seasonal cottages, building a deck or shed, etc.) and assign specific tasks equally to co-owners to avoid miscommunications.

  5. Establish a schedule for recurring responsibilities (i.e. replenishing essentials such as cleaning supplies and toiletries, taking out garbage and recycling, lawn maintenance.)

2. Fair Use During Peak Seasons

The cottage season for Canadians is definitely short-lived, many cottages are even seasonal and can only be used from May - October. This makes weekends and holidays highly sought-after and an obvious source of conflict.


Clashes within the family may spark as visits with friends or long periods of stay start building up, especially if your cottage isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone comfortably.


It is very highly recommended that co-owners implement a schedule for family vacations at the start of each year and be sure to consider the following:


  1. Equally distribute long weekend holidays.

  2. Rotate the schedule each year so that no one gets the same weekends every year.

  3. Rotate who selects first each year.

  4. Post the schedule at the cottage or share it online so it is accessible to all family members using it (i.e. children of co-owners).

  5. Notify your co-owners of any guests coming to the cottage with you.

  6. Provide your co-owners with sufficient notice if requesting a switch (i.e. 3 weeks).

  7. Agree on a set list of duties to be completed after each use (i.e. turning off water and heater, cleaning floors, changing sheets, etc.).

  8. Outline specific cottage use rules for all co-owners (i.e. does a co-owner have to be present or could a child of a co-owner use the property? Are pets allowed? Is smoking allowed? Are there noise restrictions or camp fire regulations?)

The Flip Side: Advantages of Cottage Co-Ownership


It should be clear by now that cottage co-ownership can create a messy situation for families, and not just when it comes time to sell.


Even though co-ownership may seem like a dangerous idea at times, there are actually quite a few advantages of co-ownership when done in a properly planned way.


You should consider exploring a co-ownership agreement if you agree with any of the following statements:


  1. You’d like your family cottage to stay within your family for sentimental reasons.

  2. You’d like your cottage to remain in-tact and not be purchased by someone interested in the property, not the structure.

  3. You are apprehensive about being able to handle the cost of purchasing the property as a sole owner.

  4. You are apprehensive about being able to handle the maintenance and upkeep expenses that occur monthly and annually.

  5. You are concerned about your physical ability to manage the property.

  6. You are concerned about the amount of time you will be able to spend at the cottage vs the investment.

Interested in learning more about estate planning for cottages?

Read more here on ERAssure.com or download this complimentary Will Preparation Guide to assist you with including your cottage in your current estate plan.

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