Group wants housing legislation reform for Alberta common-law couples

The Alberta legislature on Saturday, June 9, 2018.
The Alberta legislature on Saturday, June 9, 2018. Emily Mertz, Global News

A group is calling for common-law couples to have the same housing rules as married couples.

The Alberta Law Reform Institute says it wouldn’t be difficult, they could just use the same legislation that married couples already use.

Laura Buckingham with the Institute told the Alberta Morning News that, as of right now, there’s no law for common-law couples when it comes to housing.

“A lot of people think common-law couples are treated exactly the same in all areas of law,” Buckingham said. “That’s true for a lot of things, but not for property right now. Right now, married people have a law called the Matrimonial Property Act that tells them how they’ll divide their property if they split up. For common law couples right now, there’s no legislation.”

“So they have to go to court and a judge has to decide what would be fair for their individual situation,” she added.

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Buckingham said the legal process for common-law couples that split up and have to divide their home can be expensive, and noted that it can also take a long time, since there’s no defined rules.

READ MORE: How debt and poor credit affects Albertans in common-law relationships

She said Alberta is the only western province that doesn’t have this type of legislation.

“In the western provinces, most already have legislation along these lines,” Buckingham said. “B.C., Saskatchewan [and] Manitoba already have legislation for common law couples. So do the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. But other provinces in Canada haven’t quite gotten there yet, so it’s definitely something that’s happening in other places and this would bring Alberta in line with our neighbours.”

Buckingham said there’s been significant public consultation on the matter, including a 2016 phone survey. About 75 per cent of the 1,200 respondents said they would be in favour of legislation for common-law housing.

READ MORE: Nearly half of Canadians feel ‘marriage is simply not necessary’: poll

Buckingham also said she’s been in contact with Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and she says she seemed “very interested.”

Common-law partners in Alberta must have been living together for three years, unless they have a child together, or become adult independent partners.

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According to the 2016 census, there are around 320,000 common law couples in Alberta.