Re: Building modifications
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 19 May 2020 11:46:57 -0700 (PDT)
> On May 19, 2020, at 12:11 PM, Carolyn Dyer <cdyer1621 [at]> wrote:
> Here at Prairie Hill Cohousing in Iowa City, folks are beginning to propose
> modifications  or extensions of their homes.

Is this after move in? I read your site but it isn’t clear exactly where you 
are in building.

If you read the archives you will find that interior modifications (except 
perhaps leaving something out or unfinished) will both extend the time for 
construction and the cost for everyone. Building 35 unique units vs building 35 
that are all similar except in size or number of bathrooms means all your cost 
savings will be gone. Literally gone. Construction will take longer because 
workers and supervisors will have to double check plans while building, stock a 
greater variety of materials, and tear things out and redo them because no one 
looks at the plans. 

Tell people to renovate after everyone is moved in. No delays. 

Exterior modifications will probably bring all those same problems plus more. 
They will require extra construction plans and possibly re-permitting. Down the 
line it increases maintenance and repair costs for those extensions or 
elaborations. Those units will use more common space than other units and 
possibly do things like block sunlight to other units. Should that unit pay 
more for roof replacement or painting if it is extended another 10 feet?

One of the things that I learned after living in cohousing is why standard 
condos are standard. All similar units can be proportionately priced and condo 
fees and repair costs divided equivalently.

Unfair apportioning has a different effect on households with budget issues 
over $15 and households that laugh about even bothering with a $15 disparity. 
Having a clear formula that is as accurate as possible is the only way to avoid 
obvious fee imbalances. 

The disparities in features and the size of the condo fees will also affect 
unit prices forever. 

It is much, much easier to make all the units identical. Or to have 2-3 sizes, 
all with equivalent Limited Common Elements. Then differences in resale prices 
are more likely to be the result of interior upgrades.

In DC the costs of maintaining LCEs are supposed to be charged to unit owners. 
I’ve been working on a way to do this equitably since about 2004 — over 15 
years. I have a lot of research and have learned a lot. I have 3 possible 
alternatives and no agreement on any of them. The default is always do nothing 
so that is where we are—still. 

The community has to get permission to spend common funds on replacing or 
maintaining LCEs each time. Each time we agree that these funds can be spent 
but we have to have an alternative before anything else is done. We have a wide 
range of LCEs. Balconies of unfinished wood vs iron fencing and unfinished 
wood. No balcony vs 3 balconies and a front wrap-around porch. An open backyard 
that floods or a dry fenced back yard large enough for a small garden. All 
these “little" things can build up resentments. 

I have looked and looked for some guidance on a logical and ethical way to 
charge the monthly condo fees. Since each unit has 1 front door, should they 
pay equally for front door painting ($50 each), or follow the formula on which 
condo fees are based. Should the 5 units with fireplaces pay extra for gas? How 

Please take this seriously and don’t try to exercise your 
but-cohousing-is-different-muscles. The most important thing is to get built as 
economically and quickly as possible with simple, solid construction.

Sharon Villines
sustainablecohousing [at]
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