Legal Information Column, Private, Student Life

Legal Information Column: How to stay mates with your roommates?

It’s the start of a new school year, and the season for new roommate situations. Though living with friends can be a great way to split costs as a student, anxiety over seeing the same people every day is normal. Unlike an ill-advised road trip, roommates are stuck together in close quarters for indeterminate periods of time.

To help ensure peaceful cohabitation this school year, the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM) offers information for dealing with potential roommate issues. Even if roommates haven’t discussed these details with each other, Quebec has laws that are worth understanding so that students’ time sharing an address—and a legally-binding lease—is a happy one. 

Consider the following common roommate issues, along with ways one can handle each situation:


Pay Up

What happens when roommates don’t pay their share of the rent? Can the landlord sue Jenny for everyone’s rent because she was the first person he saw in the apartment lobby that morning?

In order for each roommate to be responsible for the entire rent, they have to explicitly indicate their agreement to this on the lease. If Jenny and her roommates indicated on the lease form that they each agree to be responsible for the full rent, they are solidarily liable and a landlord could sue any of them for the entire month’s rent. If they don’t indicate their agreement to be solidarily liable, they are jointly liable, meaning Jenny could therefore only be sued for her share of the rent. However, a landlord could still ask Quebec’s rental board, the Régie du logement, to cancel the entire lease and evict everyone in the unit if the rent isn’t paid in full. Fortunately, whether solidarily or jointly liable, the law entitles Jenny to reimbursement from her roommates if she pays for everyone to prevent the lease from being cancelled.


He Doesn’t Even Live Here!

If Carolina is letting Mayaz, her boyfriend, stay over so often that he never leaves the apartment, does Mayaz have to chip in for rent? What if Theo–Carolina’s roommate who isn’t on the lease and just gives cash to Carolina every month–suddenly stops paying for his share?

Roommates can form a contract with each other to establish their individual responsibilities. A contract is formed simply when there is offer and acceptance between everyone involved in the contract, and the terms can be almost anything. While acceptance is often explicit, such as with a signature on a piece of paper, it’s also possible for acceptance to be implied, such as acting in a way that suggests they agree to the terms of the contract. Moreover, verbal agreements are recognized by law, except in specific circumstances. 

Returning to Carolina’s problem, she could form a contract with Theo requiring him to pay his share to her. Theo could then also agree on the condition that he gets back 15 per cent of what he normally has to pay if Mayaz stays over for more than 15 days a month. Moreover, since a contract gives parties enforceable rights, Carolina can ask the courts for help if Theo refuses to honour their agreement.


Taking Them to Court

What happens if Jenny pays the rent owed by two of her more forgetful roommates, Remi and Brie, and they refuse to reimburse her? What if Theo decides that he doesn’t want to fulfill his promise to Carolina anymore and breaks his contract?

Jenny can send a formal notice to Remi and Brie demanding that they pay her back. Likewise, Carolina can write to Theo asking for payment of his share of the rent. If these letters don’t work, both Jenny and Carolina can enforce their rights by suing the people who aren’t honouring their promises. 

Though the law encourages people to solve their disputes informally, it provides formal procedures for people to enforce their rights, whether these rights come from a contract—like Carolina’s contract with Theo—or another part of the law, such as Jenny’s right to be reimbursed for paying everyone’s share of the rent. A person could therefore ask a judge to issue an order requiring someone to do something, such as to pay a sum of money. Quebec’s court system has different layers, allowing it to deal with disputes, both large and small. To understand the various courts and procedures, students can see volunteers at the Legal Information Clinic at McGill who will explain more about one’s rights and how to enforce them.

The start of a new university year is busy enough without anxiety over being sued for rent or anger over clashing standards of apartment noise and cleanliness. By taking a moment to learn about the law, roommates can avoid sticky legal situations and rest easier with knowledge of their legal obligations and rights under their belts. 


To ask  your own question, contact the Legal Information Clinic at McGill with the directions found on our website. According to the Act respecting the Barreau du Québec, only lawyers and notaries can provide legal advice or counsel. The LICM, therefore, only provides legal information. For legal advice, please contact a lawyer. 

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