As cottage season dawns, the prospect of joint ownership with family or friends grows anew for many Canadians, budding perennially like a lakeside plant.

Smaller down payments, lower risks and shared experiences all mark the promise of a property partnership with pals and loved ones.

But experts warn that a range of issues need consideration before diving into a cottage co-investment like a kid off the dock.

A candid conversation about finances, long-term life plans and use of the cabin are a good place to start.

"Be careful. Because these types of things can destroy families and relationships if not done properly," said Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning with CIBC Private Wealth.

"Everything's working out great — and then there's a dispute later on or one person wants to get out of it or one person gets divorced. And all of a sudden things that they didn't anticipate start happening."

Independent legal advice for each of the parties as well as written agreements are essential, Golombek advised.

Ownership schemes are one key question, with joint tenancy and tenants-in-common arrangements as the two main options (in this case, the word tenant refers to owners rather than renters).

For joint tenancy, each owner has a stake in the property, and if one dies their share transfers to the other — similar to a spousal situation. (Joint tenancy with right of survivorship is not recognized in Quebec.)

On the other hand, a tenants-in-common agreement allows for different-sized stakes in the property — 75 per cent and 25 per cent, for example, as well as 50-50 — and would see the deceased's share become part of their estate and pass on to their heirs, who would then pay a probate tax (primary residences are exempted). The tax rate varies widely from province to province, ranging from 1.7 per cent in Nova Scotia to zero in Manitoba and Quebec.

"Probably the best protection is to own it as tenancy-in-common," Golombek said, referring to deals with siblings or friends. "Each of you has your own legal rights and ownership."

Further provisions or contracts dealing with unforeseen scenarios may be necessary, such as a first right of purchase should one investor die or simply want to sell.

"Who gets it on Canada Day long weekend? Is there room for everyone? What if one family is out of the country for a year, what happens to their usage during that year?" Golombek asked, adding that a real estate lawyer can address these questions in advance.

Credit is another concern.

In a standard arrangement between co-owners, each is fully liable for the mortgage. That means a late payment or default will affect everyone's credit scores, says certified financial planner Mark Halpern.

Lenders will also average out the purchasers' credit scores, resulting in a higher-rate mortgage if one of the buyers has a lower rating.

"You've got to know who you're partnering with," said Halpern, who runs He said buyers might want to consider open mortgages, which offer more flexibility and refinancing options but also involve higher rates than closed mortgages.

"Some people want flexibility to pay it down early, because maybe they're going to get a big bonus one year or they're going exercise some stock options. Whereas maybe the other co-owner is not in that type of job," said Golombek.

Capital gains taxes come into the picture if the parties wind up selling.

"Imagine you have a cottage you bought for half a million dollars, and now it's worth a million and a half — so there's a million-dollar gain. There'd be a $250,000 tax," Halpern said, noting Ontario taxes capital gains at 25 per cent for a recreational property.

"Being half and half, each side would really have to come up with $125,000 in taxes."

Co-ownership can offer an affordable way to jump into the cottage market. "But it's not without risks," Golombek said.

"Not just legal and financial, but also a risk to the ongoing friendship or relationship if not done properly."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2023.