Forming and Running a Housing Co-Op
Admitting New Members
Co-ops are member-driven organizations. They are made up of members, and are also governed by those members.
Generally, co-op acts say little about the acceptance of new members. (The specific admittance requirements for each province and territory are discussed in further detail in the Provincial and Territorial Fact Sheets.)
A co-op has the right to decide who becomes a member, but it must comply with human rights legislation. In addition, the co-op must adhere to any government funding agreements that it has in place.
Note: Several co-op acts have minimum age requirements that prevent individuals under the age of majority from becoming a member of the co-op. While children under the age of majority may live in a co-op they do not have membership status.
A Word about Government Funding and Subsidized Housing
If a co-op receives money from the government (federal and/or provincial/territorial) to help it subsidize a certain number of housing units (apartments), it must also follow the terms of the operating agreement between the co-op and the government. For example, the co-op may be required to offer a certain number or percentage of units as subsidized housing.
Members who live in subsidized units have lower incomes and only pay a part of the housing charge. This is called a subsidized housing charge, where the housing charge is adjusted to the income of the household. This is often referred to as "rent geared to income" or "RGI". If a household qualifies for a subsidy, their housing charge is usually set at about 30 percent of the household income.
The Membership Process
Provincial and territorial law gives the board the right to approve members. The board must follow the co-op's membership policies when admitting new members, and they are responsible for ensuring that membership policies exist and are applied properly. These policies must not violate human rights laws.
The process for admitting new members is set out in the co-op's bylaws or rules. While most co-ops follow a similar process when they recruit and accept new members, specific parts of the process will differ from co-op to co-op.
In general, a co-op:
- Accepts applications in accordance with their application process
- Conducts a meeting or interview with the applicant(s)
- Puts the applicant on a waiting list (if no units are available)
- Approves the application for membership.
Some co-ops will actively market their co-op to potential members, and may hold information sessions about the co-op. Others will strike a membership committee to handle recruitment and interviews. In some co-ops staff assist the board and/or the membership committee. They may be responsible for the placement of ads, doing credit checks and keeping members' and prospective members' files. Some co-ops even have staff interview applicants and keep files on prospective members.
Waiting Lists for Applicants
When a potential member makes an application to a co-op there is no guarantee that the co-op will be able to offer the applicant a unit. In this case, which is very common, the applicant may be placed on a waiting list. Most co-ops have waiting lists of people who would like to move into the co-op. Applications are usually processed on a first come, first served basis. These lists may be particularly long for people who need subsidized housing.
Note: An applicant may not sell his or her position on a waiting list to another person. You can call the co-op to find out where you are on their waiting list.
New Members Sign an Occupancy Agreement when Joining a Co-op
Applicants may choose to join the co-op once the board has approved their membership application and has offered them a unit. New members of a co-op usually sign an occupancy agreement with the co-op. The occupancy agreement is like a lease. It sets out the rules of the co-op that members accept and agree to follow.