Co-ops are independent legal entities and have a number of obligations to their members.
Legal obligations of housing co-ops
A co-op’s legal obligations to its members are based on laws and agreements such as:
- the occupancy agreement signed with each member
- the applicable provincial or territorial co-op act
- the applicable human rights legislation
- any funding agreement it has signed with government
The co-op’s main obligations usually include keeping property in good repair and paying expenses for the co-op’s operation. As well, the co-op needs to ensure members can access basic services like heat, hot water and electricity.
Core principles for housing co-ops
Housing co-ops are also governed by a set of core principles. These are theoretical guidelines that provide a philosophical basis for how a co-op should be run.
Housing co-ops in Canada have agreed to the principles established by the International Co-operative Alliance:
- Voluntary and open membership: Co-operatives are open to all who are able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.
- Member control: Co-ops are controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Each member gets 1 vote and the elected directors are accountable to the membership.
- Economic participation: Each member contributes equally to the capital of the co-op. 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: Co-ops may enter into agreements with outside organizations, such as government funders. The terms of these agreements must ensure members retain control of the co-op.
- Education and training: To ensure the effective development of the co-cop, education and training is provided to members, elected directors, managers and staff. The co-op will also educate the general public about the nature of co-ops and the benefits of participation.
- Co-operation among co-operatives: Co-ops work together through local, national and international structures to effectively serve their members and strengthen the co-operative movement.
- Concern for the community: Co-ops work to strengthen local communities by passing policies supported by their members.
Co-op members should be familiar with the co-op’s bylaws or rules to make sure they’re being obeyed. If a member feels they’re not getting the services promised by the co-op, it’s important to speak up. This means taking the matter up with the co-op’s staff or even the board of directors. Members should put the complaint in writing and explain how they think the issue could be resolved. Most co-ops take complaints seriously and want to resolve them.
Making a complaint can be stressful. More advice on how to handle disputes is available from the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.