Issues in Cohousing [was Play/toy weapons
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2016 10:41:32 -0700 (PDT)
> On Jul 21, 2016, at 11:27 AM, David Heimann <heimann [at]> wrote:
> P.S. -- During our development, someone referred to the four P's as 
> potentially contentious issues: "Pistols", "Pets", "Progeny", and "Paying".  
> Guns and swords are on that list!

Another version of this is Parents, Pesticides, Pets.

I thought the question earlier about what are the issues is an interesting one. 
I’ll list the ones that have been issues here — some small, some big. Some 
private and individual and some with everyone on one side or the other.

Residential or commercial dishwasher in kitchen. 

Payment of condo fees is not an issue but payment for other things has been. 
Should people pay to use the clothes washer and dryer? Guest rooms? When doors 
were painted people were charged individually because each of us has one. But 
our condo fees are graduated so larger units actually pay less per SF than 
small units. Should everything else be graduated too?

Problems with children are generally considered to be parent problems and the 
problem of the parents to correct. Parents sometimes ask for help — if you see 
Jimmy in the TV room please ask him to leave. My children are vegan — please 
don’t feed them meat. But a problem is parents allowing 5-6 year olds outside 
with no supervision, arguing that if they lived in a single family home, they 
would. But others argue that it isn’t a single family home and there may be 8 
children of all ages outside who don’t have their own yards to play in. Doesn’t 
the 5 year old who likes to swing bats need parental supervision? Unless it has 
been specifically arranged, should other parents be expected to supervise that 

Are parents responsible for cleaning up the kids room even if the parent didn’t 
know their kids were there, the kids say they weren’t, and several people say 
they were? Parents are generally expected to know where their children are and 
what they are doing, particularly under 10-12. Knowing where your children are 
is not “common sense” to some single fathers.

Do children have a right to treat the dining room like a gymnasium with yelling 
and loud toys even during meals? Should they be able to scream outside at all 
hours of the day and late in the evening. Are children exempt from teh noise 
policy because it is their nature to yell and scream and run around as if the 
world is a soccer game? A soccer game with no rules.

Discipline — can a member discipline a child of someone else. Tell them not to 
jump on furniture? Or walk on window sills? (We have no policy on walking on 
window sills.) Or put them in time out or send them home for attacking other 
children. Or throwing balls where they can hit adults in the head who are 
eating lunch in the piazza. Tell them they can’t leave the playroom until they 
clean up.

How much do teams have to inform the community about changes? Does the 
facilities team have to inform others of what kind of HVAC system is being 
installed or just get permission for an amount to pay for it? Deciding that 
disposable paper products will no longer be stocked in the pantry and that 
plastic plates (which still have to be washed) had been purchased instead.

Do we need child safety locks on every drawer and cupboard in the CH or only 
ones with knives, matches for birthday candles, and cleaning products (even if 
they are all green and not dangerous). 

Can the community decide to put a tree up in front of a member’s north kitchen 
window, effectively blocking all light. Because we use consensus, no. But some 
people were very upset because this tree somehow was needed to balance the 
landscape design. Which takes precedence?

Can we plant only native plants? Or what percentage of native and non-native? 
What is “native”? If we don’t use Round-up, who weeds. What is a weed? Can a 
resident plant “weed” in their own yards.

Do we really need 6 inches of rubber mulch under a raised fort for older 
children? I used to jump off roofs when I was 8 and climb 3 story high trees. 
Why can’t ours?

Does it really take a village to raise a child? Shouldn’t we have discussions 
about manners and reasonable behavior in the common spaces? Can only parents 
make rules about children’s “needs” and behaviors. Shouldn’t all members make 
the decision that we need childcare during meetings? People without children 
can’t tune them out as easily as parents. Should only parents decide if we need 
to store carseats in the front hall? Even if there are 8? And strollers?

Should dogs be allowed to run without leashes? Cats be outdoor cats? Only if 
residents are allergic or to also protect guests and future residents? Or 
because some members panic at the sight of a dog running loose?

Where can dogs poop and pee? Who decides? The landscaping point person who 
doesn’t want them to poop or pee anywhere? Who is responsible for cats using 
the sand box or flower planters on balconies for kitty litter?

Can people schedule private time to use the exercise room?

Can people do exercise videos in the newly refurbished living room instead of 
the exercise room? How does it affect the expensive new rug?

Where can bicycles be parked? How many spaces per unit should be have? We now 
have at least 61 bikes. Where can we put them. Doesn’t everyone deserve equally 
nice storage — all indoor or all outdoor? All on the first floor or all on the 
third floor?

How long can a member remain on the members list after they move out? If they 
have been a member for 18 years and want to stay on for a few months until the 
get attached to their new community? If they are leaving after having caused 
trouble? Does everything have to be standardized?

Have a TV in the common house? Who pays for cable? In and unlocked room?

When there is a central mail delivery room and anyone can sign for packages, 
can each unit decide where they want their packages delivered and who can sign 
for them? Who keeps track of individual preferences?

Growing vegetables in the decorative gardens along the green? Should we exhibit 
our values or have nice gardens? Vegetables tend to die before August and are 
not removed or replanted. They don’t fit in with the design. Not everyone wants 
to plant them so the design can’t be changed, or not to make everyone happy.

Can privately owned things be stored in common space that is unused otherwise — 
put flat decks on it. Put storage boxes of tools in it. Leave strollers and 
tricycles on them.

Can we have a Christmas Tree? If so can we put angels or a creche on it? Can a 
lighted Santa Claus figure be put up on the sign in front of the common house? 
Can religious/cultural holiday of any member be celebrated in the common house?

Should the workshop be locked? Who can borrow tools and under what 
circumstances? Are the paints and other supplies open source or reserved for 
community use?

What cleaning products can be used in the kitchen? Steel wool on pans or bleach 
 on the dishcloths?

Guns? Guns in common areas? Dangerous pets like pythons? Uncontrolled loud 
speakers in the common house for parties?

Is committee work like researching and righting policies workshare or only 
physical maintenance tasks?

Drying diapers on portable racks on the green? In a neighborhood where the 
predominantly black neighbors consider hanging clothes outside to signal ghetto 
or slums.


These may seem overwhelming or trivial but they all cause conflict. You can’t 
address all of these before you move in or start membership meetings with a 
list of these issues. Take them up as they come along. We didn’t deal with any 
issues related to children until we had a bunch of them a few years in. Pets 
may be important to discuss with prospective members because people may not 
want to get rid of pets. (When we finally wrote a pets policy we also 
grandfathered in existing outdoor cats, for example.)

The worst kind of conflicts, in my opinion, are the small ones that people 
grouse about are never resolved. They are often dismissed by others as trivial. 
Feeling several of these can cause unhappiness that is hard to resolve because 
because it comes from multiple places that have all been trivialized. It begins 
to affect ones personality.

Passing off things as personal issues to be resolved between neighbors is  
usually a problem too. People are members of a community— not individual home 
owners. They are accountable to the community and shared vaues and 
expectations. Without community clarification of expectations, many members 
think they don’t have a right to even raise an issue. They think they can’t 
object because there is no policy prohibiting someone from storing a boat 
beside someone else’s garden and blocking their sun. When neighbors disagree, 
it is often because the community has not recognized or discussed the issue. 
The same problem causes hard feelings over and over.

When communities say this isn’t our problem, discuss it with so-and-so, they 
are shooting themselves in the foot. If the person could have talked to the 
other person, they would have. For whatever reason, they couldn’t and are 
asking for help.

A policy isn’t always necessary, just a discussion and a recorded sense of the 
group in the minutes. People often change their behavior after a discussion and 
no further action is necessary. Getting the right wording of a policy can take 
years and thens seem like a bureaucratic non-necessity when it finally gets 
written. We had a discussion on pets during which neighbors expressed their 
objections to a neighbor’s outdoor cats even though they only went on their 
common outside corridor. But they left hair everywhere on tables, etc. She had 
no idea there was a problem and she had had the cats for almost 10 years. After 
that she only took them out on a leash and took them out on the green.

So just talk about it first, as a community. A community is only as strong as 
its fully committed members.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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