RE: Some membership questions
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Wed, 24 Jun 1998 21:26:18 -0500
There are two separate peices to membership:

One, what the law allows and two, what you want. My opinion is that you can 
pretty safely do a lot of wiggling about how you present your community before 
you would ever get into trouble.

People who routinely drive 80 MPH in 55 MPH zones argue that we can do nothing 
about screening members because its against the law. These same people break 
the law every time they drive... I agree with Bard, the law is often an idiot. 
There are lots of ways to screen in the right people.

I have not yet heard about any cohousing groups ever getting in trouble by 
having informal conditions on sale of future or existing units, or selectively 
advertising or marketing. Of course, maybe lots have and I just haven't ever 
heard about it, but I get around so if it was a common problem I think I 
would've heard about it by now. The law is only an issue if somebody feels 
they have been wronged, or unfairly treated, and there are very easy and 
effective ways, based on what you tell people, and what you emphasize, to key 
on the important skills and characteristics you are looking for.

I think its really a good idea to carefully screen new members, at any stage. 
You can screen them by what you tell them on a tour and how you emphasize 
certain things like community expectations, dinners, socialiable climate, 
swapping childcare, sharing personal tools, co-ownership of common elements, 
collaboration, etc. 

I went on a cohousing tour once where the tour giver specificially mentioned 
that living here required good collaboration skills, then she specifically 
asked me what my experiences were in working with  groups using consensus!  

There are a number of attitudes and skills that are helpful to be a sucessful 
community participant, and more you can screen people out that do not have 
those attitudes the better your group will work together. 

How you give a tour can do a lot to screen in the right people, brochures and 
other handouts also can do this as well. It is so much easier to screen in the 
right people than to deal with trying to remove the wrong people later.

I once facilitated a meeting where a person was asked to leave. I had several 
of the more involved members meet privately to brainstorm up a list of skills 
and attitudes that members needed to be sucessful and happy in the community. 
We then presented this list to the unhappy member, noted how unhappy she was, 
noted how her unhappiness was causing other unhappiness in the group. She then 
broke down, more or less confessed her problems, saw that she was too 
dysfunctional to be part of the group, and she agreed to leave.

I would not wish that sort of meeting on anybody. So pick your members with at 
least some clue about what makes a successful group member so you don't ever 
get into that place. Also, to buck the popular opinion, just because somebody 
owns a house does not mean you can't ask them to leave. You just can't force 
them out directly. Of course, its better to work on the issues, but sometimes 
there are people who are just not good neighbors. They lie, they cheat, they 
may be seriously emotionally dysfunctional. In the extreme cases, the group 
really needs to work together and stay healthy in the presence of bad 
relationship. This requires committed work, and the sad thing is, too many 
groups avoid it, and ignore the problem. Often this ends up with really 
excellent members leaving because they won't tolerate the dysfunctional 

If you want to keep members, and make them feel committed, have a celebration 
in honor of their joining. It can be simple, or elaborate. If people who made 
commitment leave, honor their work with a ceremony. It will help in the 
healing to have everyone be a part of saying goodbye. This does not have to be 
sad and mopy. One of the best parties we had lately was when a very much loved 
neighbor moved on. 

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Cohousing

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