Re: recruitment screening and rentals
From: oz (
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2013 17:10:35 -0700 (PDT)
more opinion

On Wed, Mar 13, 2013 at 10:42 AM, matt lowe <mattwglowe [at]> wrote:

> Hi there fellow Cohousers,
> We're in the process of buiding a cohousing community and developing
> policies.  We are stumped on a few things:
> 1)  When recruiting new members, how best to screen for potential problem
> members?  In other words how do we try to identify a person who would be a
> problem member and respectfully deny their application?
Check people out carefully - about all we did was criminal background
checks, which hardly ever tells you much. I'm not sure what I'd do now,
other than make sure that the other core, founding members are also taking
this question very seriously as we define our membership policies.

A developing cohousing community is (also) a multimillion dollar business
and you are going into business with the other members of the founding
group. Do you really want to go into business with people you do not trust?
Who have had problems with the law? Who have serious addiction issues? Who
are mentally ill? Perhaps, but, at the very least, you probably want them
to disclose relevant issues and be able to work with them to figure out
whether their situation is acceptable to their co-partners in the venture.

Many, if not most, developing communities accept people at face value. We
are filled with compassionate, forgiving, generous people who badly want to
accept everybody. Whether this is a good idea or not is a question of

We did lovingly and generously accept a man who many believed would be very
challenging. About a year after move-in, he left the community in such a
way that caused a lot of grief for many. He later sued the HOA and
everybody in the community. It was thrown out as frivolous, but it was very
difficult. After it was thrown out, he appealed, so more time and energy
spent for no good reason.

When asked whether a community needs D&O insurance, I am unambiguously in
support of YES as the answer. For the few hundred dollars a year that it
cost us, it saved tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal
fees. The whole situation was a real mess, but at least it didn't cost a
lot of out-of-pocket costs. A couple of our members spent MUCH time
collecting information (email records, minutes, etc.), documenting and
preparing material for the series of lawyers which the insurance company
assigned to our cases.

When he applied to become a co-owner of the LLC building our community, I
was the only person who was prepared to block his entrance. I decided that
instead of blocking, I should get to know him better and offer a more
informed opinion. I ended up agreeing that we should accept him. I felt
that he could grow into a highly valued member of our community - I was

2)  Some of our members want to build rental suites.  Rentals can reduce
> the financial burden on the members and allow them to invite family members
> to move in.  On the flip side, rentals use community resources and provide
> a financial advantage for only some of the community members.  What do you
> recomment here?

Allow people to build them if they choose and are able - additonal forms of
housing, other than owner-occupied spaces, allows for greater diversity -
at least in income/resources.

Do create agreements and structures that allow renters/other family members
to participate in ways that feel equitable. Our renters are required to
become associate members and pay their own dues to the community. They are
and others have been core members of our community, fully involved in our
shared life and leadership. There has been so much goodness flowing into
our community from these people! They have improved our community in
countless ways.

Trying to equalize things on an even-steven basis is admirable but
impossible. Some of your members will have plenty of money. Others will be
relatively poor. Some of your members will be brilliant. Others will not.
Do try to create equal opportunity, but we really have a lot less control
over many aspects of reality than we sometimes think.

Oz Ragland
Songaia member since 1992

Matt, Nelson Land Group
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