Co-operative Housing: Members' Rights and Duties
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- 1 What is a housing co-operative?
- 2 What law applies to housing co-ops?
- 3 Who are members?
- 4 What rights do members have?
- 5 What if members have a dispute?
- 6 What happens at co-op meetings?
- 7 What do members have to do?
- 8 What if two or more people are joint members of a co-op?
- 9 When can a co-op end a person’s membership?
- 10 What if a person disagrees with the directors’ decision to end their membership?
- 11 When can a co-op end a person’s occupancy agreement?
- 12 More information
What is a housing co-operative?
A housing co-operative, or a co-op, for short, is an incorporated, non-profit association that owns housing for its members. The members are people who want to live in a mixed-income community where they have a voice and a vote in decisions affecting their housing. Co-op housing is a home, not an investment.
What law applies to housing co-ops?
A co-op’s “occupancy agreement” is like a lease. It sets out members’ rights and responsibilities as residents. The “rules of the association” set out the membership conditions. Both the agreement and the rules must be consistent with the BC Cooperative Association Act (the Act).
Who are members?
The people who own and live in a housing co-op are called “members.” Normally, a member must be at least 19 years old (although a co-op may allow members as young as 16). A member must also own at least one common share in the association and live in one of the co-op housing units. Members are not tenants, so the BC Residential Tenancy Act does not apply to them and they don’t pay rent. Instead, they pay a monthly housing charge for the mortgage, taxes, and operating expenses. Some members pay a housing charge based on their income – usually, about 30% of their gross household income. Other members pay a housing charge close to market rates. Together, the members own their housing jointly and control the governance and management of the housing co-op.
What rights do members have?
- attend, speak, and vote at general meetings where major decisions are made, such as changing policies and rules, setting housing charges, and electing directors.
- elect the members of the board of directors, or run for election as one of the directors – if they want to be more involved in governing the co-op.
- live permanently in their unit as long as they need the housing the co-op provides and accept membership responsibilities. But if the co-op ends a person’s membership, the person must leave the co-op. If they don’t, the co-op can apply to the BC Supreme Court for possession of the person’s unit.
- use services provided by the co-op, at as close as possible to the actual cost.
- withdraw from the co-op or transfer their share in it to another person – with the consent of the co-op’s directors.
What if members have a dispute?
Co-ops govern, or look after, themselves. The rules and policies of most co-ops have procedures to solve disputes between individual members and between the association and individual members. Members should follow those procedures to solve disputes. If that doesn’t work, they can seek help through arbitration or a court. Arbitration is less formal than a court. A person with a dispute who is no longer a member has only 6 months after leaving the co-op to seek arbitration or go to court. An arbitration decision is final, unless the co-op rules allow a person to appeal to court. If a co-op ends a person’s membership, the person cannot use arbitration to appeal that action – they have to go to court, as explained below.
What happens at co-op meetings?
Members of co-ops work together to govern and manage the co-op through an elected board of directors and various committees. The members themselves, as well as the committees and the board of directors, all hold meetings to deal with things like admitting new members, finance, policy-making, and major decisions for members. Co-ops also hire professional management services and contract for other services like bookkeeping and maintenance.
What do members have to do?
Members have to follow the co-op rules, which are made by members. That means members have to:
- follow the rules on parking, maintenance of the housing, and participation in the co-op.
- attend general meetings and meetings of any committee they belong to.
- pay their housing charges and shares in full and on time. All money payable is a debt to the co-op. If a member does not pay, the co-op can put a lien (a charge) on their shares. The co-op can also end a person’s membership for failure to pay.
What if two or more people are joint members of a co-op?
Only one of the joint members can be a director at one time and only the person whose name appears first on the share certificate can vote – unless the co-op’s rules say otherwise. All joint members are responsible for paying any assessments, levies, dues, fees, payments and other charges relating to membership and the co-op can collect that money from any joint member.
When can a co-op end a person’s membership?
A co-op can end (terminate) a person’s membership in any of the following cases:
- if the person does not pay rent, occupancy charges, or other money they owe for the use of the premises.
- if the directors believe that the person violated a “material (important) condition” in the occupancy agreement.
- for conduct detrimental to the co-op.
The co-op must first give notice of the problem to the person and give them a chance to correct it. A motion to end a person’s membership for one of these reasons needs approval by 75% of all directors in a meeting called for this purpose. The co-op has to give the person notice of the directors’ meeting, and let them appear and speak at the meeting. A person whose membership is ended is entitled to a refund of what they paid for their shares, minus any money they owe to the co-op. When a co-op ends a person’s membership, the person’s occupancy agreement also ends, so they can no longer live in the co-op.
What if a person disagrees with the directors’ decision to end their membership?
The person can appeal to the members at the next membership meeting and continue as a member until the appeal is heard. But first, they have to notify the directors that they plan to appeal. And they have to do this within 7 days of when they are notified of the directors’ decision to end their membership.
If the members confirm the directors’ decision, the person can apply to the BC Supreme Court to rule that the termination of their membership wasn’t justified – because the co-op violated principles of natural justice or its decision was not reasonably supported by the facts or authorized under the Act.
There is a 30-day limit to apply to the Supreme Court. People need help from a lawyer before doing this.
When can a co-op end a person’s occupancy agreement?
A co-op can end (terminate) a person’s occupancy agreement for any breach of the occupancy agreement. The most common reason is non-payment of housing charges. The board must first demand in writing that the person correct the problem. If the person doesn’t correct it, the board can pass a resolution by a simple majority to end the occupancy agreement.
When the occupancy agreement ends, the person’s membership also ends and they must then leave the co-op. But first they have the appeal right the previous section (on appealing a membership termination) describes.
Check the website of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC at www.chf.bc.ca or call them at 604.879.5111 in Vancouver and 1.866.879.5111, toll-free, elsewhere in BC. The Federation website has model rules and occupancy agreement, a guide to the model rules, and a guide to the Act. They are under the “Members Resources” link, which is under the “Education” link on the main page. This website also has a link to the Act.
As well, both the Cooperative Association Act and Cooperative Association Regulation are available at www.bclaws.ca – click on “Statutes and Regulations” and then on “C” in the alphabetical list. Scroll down and click on the name of the Act and Regulation to view them. Some public libraries also have copies of BC laws and regulations.
Finally, check the website of the Community Legal Assistance Society at www.clasbc.net.
[updated October 2012]
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