Re: Records Checks for Cohousing Group Members
From: Ann Zabaldo (zabaldoearthlink.net)
Date: Mon, 25 May 2020 11:43:40 -0700 (PDT)
Hello Frances —

Background checks have come up on this list in the past. I remember a few coho 
groups saying they use background checks.  It’s been so long I don’t remember 
which ones now. Maybe they will identify themselves again.   Have you checked 
the archives? The link is at the bottom of any Coho-L message.

Of interest in this conversation is what is this person’s motivation for 
wanting these two background checks?  Have they had a personal experience of 
something dreadful or tragic happening in their past that they believe a 
background check would have prevented the situation?  Maybe the issue is with 
the person individually.

Without going into too much detail (because I no longer remember all the 
details from 22 years ago) we did have a person who wanted to join Takoma 
Village in the very early days of our formation who had served time in prison 
for sexually abusing a child. Let me be very clear, the issues at the time 
surrounding this were not as clear cut as that last sentence I just wrote.  The 
short of it was the person was not accepted into the community.  it was just 
too big an issue w/ too many moving parts. 

Having gotten that on the table … here’s what I see as problematic w/ 
background checks.  

When you have a background check done, what will you know when you know it?  
What information will be in the report?

The report may say … this person has a felony conviction from 1975.  How will 
you interpret that?  Will the report show the conviction was for carrying a 
small amount of marijuana?  In the 70’s my boyfriend served 2 years for 
possession of under 1 ounce.  Upon his release, he found himself a convicted 
felon who had to work for many years to get his rights restored - - all for 
under an ounce.  Now, we find an arrest for under 1 oz laughable.  But he still 
has that felony conviction on his record.

How about a conviction for trespassing?  Will the report give you all the 
information about the circumstance of the situation?  Will it have all sides of 
the story or only the police recordation?  My brother was hunting on public 
land where it was legal to do so.  He became ill so he and the dog cut across a 
narrow part of a farmer’s land to get back to his car faster.  The farmer saw 
him, called the police and they arrested my brother for trespassing. No amount 
of explanation satisfied the farmer.  Thankfully, my brother just had to pay a 
fine.  They did not arrest the dog nor did it pay a fine.

How about arrested for disturbing the peace?  Will you count people arrested 
for anti-war demonstrations as being unfit?  

This idea of background checks is fraught w/ peril.  Is everyone in the whole 
community going to read these reports?  I can’t imagine how awful that would be 
for both the community members and the prospective member.  My point is … when 
you get this information … what are you going to do w/ it?  Who will be the 
judge and jury?  What standards are you proposing to use in accepting a person 
or not?  One person from the community reading the report might be fine w/ 
marijuana but horrified at someone trespassing on private land.  Or vice-versa.

And if a person is arrested and jailed for drunk and disorderly when they were 
18 should that count against them at 35?  How are you going to weigh these 
things?

Plus, this looking for criminal behavior undercuts the very basis for creating 
a cohousing community which is … trusting your neighbors. It just goes against 
the grain.  It completely upends the notion of building community.  We all have 
skeletons in our closet.  Are my skeletons better or worse than yours? 

If you want to look in advance for problems w/ your neighbors in cohousing how 
about dealing w/ people not paying their HoA dues?  Or not participating in the 
community? Never showing up for work day?  Or becoming seriously mentally ill?  
Or issues around parenting?  These are issues worthy of your time because they 
are knotty issues and they will be with you for a long time.

While it is statically possible that someday, sometime, in some situation you 
could end up w/ a “bad guy” — it’s more likely you will end up w/ a neighbor 
who irritates the hell out of you, who will enrage you when they speak at 
meetings as well as the people YOU will irritate and enrage at meetings when 
you speak.  And no background check will surface that.


Ann Zabaldo
Takoma Village Cohousing
Washington, DC
Member, Board of Directors
Mid Atlantic Cohousing
Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
Falls Church, VA
202.546.4654

The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they 
know and then stop.
Mark Twain




> On May 25, 2020, at 12:45 PM, frances woolison <franceswoolison [at] 
> hotmail.com> wrote:
> 
> I am a member of a forming Canadian cohousing group. We are currently 
> establishing the Bylaws and Policies for our Corporation. One group member is 
> adamant that those joining the community as members now, and others 
> purchasing units in the community in the future, be required to undergo a 
> Criminal Records check and a Vulnerable Persons Abuse Registry check before 
> being accepted into the community or being allowed to purchase a home. Katie 
> McCamant is our consultant, and she says that she has never heard of a 
> cohousing group having those requirements. We would be interested in knowing 
> if any other communities have mandated such criteria. If other groups do not 
> have such requirements, how are children and vulnerable persons in the 
> community protected from abuse, and what would the liability of the group be 
> in case of such abuse taking place? Thank you for any input you can offer.
> 
> Frances Woolison
> Prairie Rivers Cohousing
> Winnipeg, Manitoba
> Canada
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