Re: Question about household decision
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2018 06:33:19 -0700 (PDT)
I am wholly unqualified to provide legal advice to anyone, so if looks like 
I’ve said anything potentially interesting, be sure to double-check it with the 
legal experts in your jurisdiction.  With this preamble as warning, here’s how 
I’ve seen it sorted out at Cornerstone, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

Condominum ownership and occupancy exists by virtue of state enabling 
legislation.  The Commonwealth’s primary concern for condos is that some 
identifiable entity has the power and the duty to protect the property, and the 
property interests of the owners.  Most of the time, this is accomplished by 
the formation of an association “governed” by an elected Managing Board.

How the Board is chosen, how it makes decisions, how it collects and spends 
money, etc, are not dictated in (much) detail in Massachusetts (as compared to 
a more stringently regulatory state like California).  So in Massachusetts, the 
Commonwealth does not know or care anything about committees versus circles, 
double links versus sausage links, or consensus versus casting the I Ching.  
The main thing it cares about is, Is there a duly elected Managing Board in 
place, and is it acting to preserve the property and protect the interests of 
the property owners?
      At Cornerstone Cohousing — no surprise here, and common to other 
cohousing — many or most key decisions are made in plenary, by consensus, and 
many powers and duties are delegated (by the association, at plenary) to 
committees other than the Managing Board.  Our Board does have a few unique 
powers and duties, but one of its “duties” is to ratify (“rubber stamp”) the 
decisions made and actions taken elsewhere.  This fulfills the Commonwealth’s 
requirement of having an identifiable entity of ultimate authority and 
accountability, while at the same time allowing for a Cohousing-like 
distribution of power and duty broadly throughout the membership.  Sometimes we 
call this the “weak Board” model — not as a pejorative, but as our shared 

At Cornerstone, for better or worse, distribution of fiscal power and duty is 
broad, just like distribution of other power and duty.  Cornerstone stays 
functional in part to a “budget” of volunteer hours, which for us, is just as 
essential as the budget of dollars.  Additionally, keep in mind the four issues 
that condos — especially formational ones — are most likely to argue about:  
Guns; pets; smoking; and “noise” (subtext: kids).  So self-governance is not 
always just about money.

Voting?  In Massachusetts, the “association” is made up of “units”, and for 
some circumstances, units “vote” according to weight of percentage interest.  
So the “vote” of a big unit counts for more than the vote of a small unit.  At 
Cornerstone, our consensus efforts are almost always successful (or abandoned), 
and we rarely go to voting.  In the rare case that a vote occurs, for us it's 
normally one household, one vote:  What we vote on may not be a case falling 
within the requirements of the Commonwealth, and we do not recognize a split 
household.  But for objections, it's always one member, one voice.  Members 
living in the same household need not agree on the objection, and indeed we 
will sometimes have a case where one member objects to part of a proposal, and 
his/her partner does not join the objection.

But like I said, this is what works for us in Massachusetts.  What works for 
you in your jurisdiction could be quite different.  Bottom line: You’ll 
probably find that the enabling legislation authorizing your existence as a 
condo or HOA provides plenty of latitude for you to behave like cohousing.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at]

> On Apr 5, 2018, at 9:59 PM, Chris Terbrueggen <christopher402 [at]> 
> wrote:
> I am going to make my question more specific. When a cohousing organization
> decides to become a condo association are there specific roadblocks to keep
> in mind when trying to develop a sociocracy governance system?
> After reading the national cohousing list serve history, I noticed that
> Sharon V.  made a distinction between monetary or fiscal issues when it
> comes to condo association decisions, compared to all other decisions.
> Concerning one decision or one vote per household.  I trying to understand
> how to grapple with this one, since I know that sociocracy uses consent and
> not voting. How could we resolve this issue in our condo docs? We will be
> writing our condo docs in the near future.
> Thanks, Chris
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