Who Should Consider a Co-Tenancy Agreement?

By: John F. Lushis, Jr.

A real estate transaction that may appear simple on the surface is the purchase of a residential dwelling by an unmarried couple who wish to live together in that dwelling. But purchasing a house together, even with the best of intentions, can sometimes be a recipe for trouble.

Questions to Consider

At the outset, questions such as whether the title will be taken in both names must be evaluated. This is significant because if the title is taken in both names and a mortgage lender is involved, the couple will both be required to sign the mortgage and, from the lender’s perspective, will both be liable for the monthly mortgage payments.

Additionally, it will be necessary to answer questions such as who will pay what share of the house expenses including the mortgage payments, and how will decisions regarding major expenses (such as a new roof or a new heating system) be handled?

Even more of a concern is what would happen if the couple purchases the house and move in together, but never marry, and eventually decide to part ways. Will the house be sold? Can one significant other buy out the other? How will the purchase price be determined? What if children are involved and they do not wish to attend a different school?

If these questions are not addressed at the outset, addressing them later will be more difficult and most likely much costlier. Unlike married couples, unmarried couples do not have the advantage of divorce laws to help address these issues and run the very real risk of finding themselves stuck.

The Solution

One way for an unmarried couple to address these issues is through the use of a “co-tenancy agreement.” A carefully written co-tenancy agreement will allow answers to the questions described above and other questions the couple may have to be spelled out clearly so that if the unmarried couple decides to live together no longer, a roadmap will be available to them and legal counsel to address the consequences of their separation. This can serve to reduce expensive difficulties and potential court proceedings.

The real estate attorneys at Norris McLaughlin have handled situations involving unmarried couples and are ready to assist you. We can explain in detail the legal aspects of a co-tenancy, answer your questions, address your concerns, and walk you through the negotiation of a mutually satisfactory co-tenancy agreement.

If you have any questions about this post or any other related matters, please email me at