Re: background checks
From: Buzz Harris (
Date: Sun, 29 Jan 2006 17:03:11 -0800 (PST)
Hi Lynn.

We here at Common Hearth Cohousing recently considered the question of placing a filter on new associate households joining our community, and questions of looking into potential newcomers' backgrounds were raised. After much conversation and thought, we came to consensus and decided against such a measure. We inquired into the experience of other cohousing communities in our area and found that there had never been any problem in one with untrustworthy or deeply disruptive people, and only once in the history of another.

We opted for a policy that allows the group to remove someone from the group for fraud, embezzlement, threats made against other persons, and other like things. We also opted for what a number of other groups have - a Community Support Team whose purpose is to act as a conflict resolution, mediation, and/or negotiation body such that disputes and interpersonal conflicts have an institutional place to go for help in our community. Note that Community Support is not intended to deal with issues listed under the involuntary removal procedure - it is a place that less serious conflicts can be taken.

We do have an application process for people to become equity members of the project, but this is focused on their ability to afford the financial commitment. There is an opportunity for existing equity households to express concerns about concrete conflicts and/or issues about the new equity applicant, but this is focused on resolving them, if possible. There is also, in our draft operating agreement which all equity members will sign, a section that permits involuntary expulsion of equity households for, again, fraud, embezzlement, etc.

Upfront 'background checks' are, I think, off putting. They bespeak mistrust and the implication of a class of persons above others. All of us are guilty, on some level, of bad acts in our past. Some are grave and some minor. Some who commit grave offenses are caught and have a record and others are not caught and can appear clean as a whistle in any examination of official records. Still others are unjustly convicted of things which they did not, in fact, do, but which can dog them all of their lives like the proverbial albatross.

Create a good and strong community founded upon trust, regard for one another, and the most open, honest communication that you can contrive to have. Only ask people to remove themselves from it when they have demonstrated that they are unworthy to be a part of it. There is some risk in that, yes, but there is also risk in shutting your gates and posting a warning before them. Given the option of the two risks, it is better for a community, I think, to choose the former.

Good luck,

Buzz Harris
Common Hearth Cohousing

At 11:52 AM 1/29/2006, you wrote:
I'm (also) part of a forming EcoVillage, and it has been suggested that as part of the application process for membership in the co-operative, a "background check" be required. The thinking seems to be that this could surface criminal history (abuse or molestation?) that would be cause for concern about having said person as a member. I personally wonder whether it would really be useful. Would it create a false sense of security (as a person could always have done such things and not gotten caught)? Is it illegal, anyway, to discriminate against a person who has served their time for whatever offenses? Would it be reassuring to an applicant, or off-putting? Is the expense in money and "vibe" worth it anyway? Are there other communities which require background checks? If so, what is your experience of it? If you considered it and decided not to, why was that? Has anyone had problems that could have been avoided if there had been a background check?
Lynn Nadeau


Buzz Harris
Writer, activist, & political researcher

buzz [at] thesubnet [dot] net

'Market Macht Frei'


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