Re: Records Checks for Cohousing Group Members Ann's post is long and you might think you don't need to read it - but I HIGHLY recommend it (eom)
From: Liz Ryan Cole (
Date: Tue, 26 May 2020 04:46:21 -0700 (PDT)

> On May 25, 2020, at 2:43 PM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]> wrote:
> 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] 
>>> 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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