Forming and Running a Housing Co-Op

Obligations of the Housing Co-op to its Members

Co-ops are independent legal entities. They have obligations to their members based on the agreements they have signed and the legislation that governs their operation. A co-op has specific obligations based on the obligations set out in:

  • the occupancy agreement signed with each member;
  • the applicable provincial or territorial co-op act;
  • the applicable human rights legislation; and
  • any operating agreement it has signed with the government.
Typically, the main obligations of the co-op to its members relate to:
  • property upkeep;
  • the payment of all fees and expenses needed to provide for the ongoing operation of the co-op; and
  • the supply of basic services such as heat, hot water and electricity.

Note: Basic services are often paid directly by individual member households.

Making a Complaint: When a Co-op Fails to Meet its Obligations

If you think you are not getting the services you have been promised, you need to take the matter up with your co-op's staff or with the board. As a starting point you will want to check your bylaws or rules. Your complaint should be made in writing, and it is helpful to explain how you think your issue could be resolved.

Making a complaint can be stressful. For further information on this topic, including advice on how to protect your interests at a meeting, read the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada's guide to handling disputes.

In addition to the legal obligations of a co-op based on signed agreements and legislation, co-ops are also governed by a set of Core Principles. These are essentially theoretical guidelines that provide a philosophical basis for co-op operation.

On September 23, 1995, the International Co-operative Alliance, the body representing co-operatives worldwide, adopted the following new co-operative principles that housing co-ops in Canada have agreed to follow.

Voluntary and Open Membership Co-operatives are open to all people who are a) able to use their services and b) willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.
Member Control Co-ops are controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting co-op policies and making decisions. Co-ops are run democratically, with each member having one vote, and the elected representatives being accountable to the membership.
Economic Participation Each member contributes equally to the capital of their co-operative. Surpluses are allocated to activities that will benefit the co-op and its members. Surpluses are often put into a reserve for further development of the co-op.
Independence While co-ops may enter into agreements with outside organizations, such as government funders, the terms of these agreements must ensure the members retain control of the co-op.
Education & Training To enable effective development of the co-op, education and training is provided to members, elected representatives, managers and employees. The co-op will also educate the general public about the nature of co-ops and benefits of participation.
Co-operation Among Co-operatives Co-ops work together through local, national and international structures in order to effectively serve their members and to strengthen the co-operative movement.
Concern for the Community Co-ops work to strengthen local communities by passing policies supported by their members.

Canada

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