Re: Vetting New Members
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2017 09:38:37 -0800 (PST)
On Dec 20, 2017, at 4:42 PM, Tom <TPaciocco [at]> wrote:
> Is it possible to vet new members in a senior cohousing community within the 
> confines of the Fair Housing Act? Can a community deny membership based on 
> incompatibility or to people who don't share the same values and goals?

Look at this from the opposite direction:  Do you really want to be responsible 
for excluding someone? Would you like being vetted before you were “allowed” to 
join a community? Would you like being questioned about your potential 
community value?

It’s almost impossible to judge community compatibility. You want diversity, 
right? Hard for the pot to decide if the pan is really the right mix. 

Informed self-selection does work and communities have used it successfully for 
years. Dick’s list of things to do is a very good one. I would add mortgage 
pre-certification if you are selling units, and don’t have rentals. We also ask 
people to attend a community meal and a membership and/or team meeting. 
Particularly if this process takes time, the prospective member will have a 
realistic sense of their desire to live in your community.

Since we have been moved in since 2000, we now have resales and the group in 
charge of that now orients people before there is even a unit available. When a 
unit does become available, they are notified. One sale was recently completed 
before the unit was listed to a couple who had been through the process.

The law only covers the refusal. You can’t discriminate, meaning reject people, 
on the basis of age, race, nationality, physical ability, etc. The exception, 
of course, is the law on senior housing that allows restricting age groups. I 
don’t know if all the laws restrict “seniors” to those who have no underage 
children living with them. If the age in your state is 50 or even 55, there are 
many parents in this age range now.

More serious vetting may be warranted if you are suspicious about someone. But 
even then a closer look doesn’t mean a formal process. Just talk it over and 
allow the person to leave voluntarily. I’ve written about such a case 
anonymously in Communities Magazine. The person revealed in an “I’m innocent” 
tone that he had been found guilty of sexual abuse of a child(ren). Since he 
had been sent to prison and had also settled a previous case out of court, it 
was not a vague situation. Some people believed he should be given a 
chance—others who had been abused themselves or had or were expecting to have 
young children didn’t want to live with someone who might be a predator.

Both he and the group had agreed to a process in which he would explain his 
story to the whole group, and they would ask questions and explain their 
concerns. At the end of the process the group would make a decision. When he 
was confronted with the feelings of other members and realized how concerned 
they were—some even planning to leave if he remained—he left voluntarily.

That is an extreme case but still it was resolved in a discussion, not 
requiring legal action or the chance of being sued for discrimination. Or 
background checks.

When you work closely with people in a variety of pre move-in situations, you 
know if they are being deceptive or hiding information. What is important is 
just to confront it. Ask the questions, raise the concerns, and be willing to 
say “This won’t work for me (or for us).”

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.