A housing cooperative, or housing co-op, is a legal entity, usually a cooperative or a corporation, which owns real estate, consisting of one or more residential buildings; it is one type of housing tenure. Housing cooperatives are a distinctive form of home ownership that have many characteristics that differ from other residential arrangements such as single family home ownership, condominiums and renting.
The corporation is membership based, with membership granted by way of a share purchase in the cooperative. Each shareholder in the legal entity is granted the right to occupy one housing unit. A primary advantage of the housing cooperative is the pooling of the members’ resources so that their buying power is leveraged; thus lowering the cost per member in all the services and products associated with home ownership.
Another key element in some forms of housing cooperatives is that the members, through their elected representatives, screen and select who may live in the cooperative, unlike any other form of home ownership.
Housing cooperatives fall into two general tenure categories: non-ownership (referred to as non-equity or continuing) and ownership (referred to as equity or strata). In non-equity cooperatives, occupancy rights are sometimes granted subject to an occupancy agreement, which is similar to a lease. In equity cooperatives, occupancy rights are sometimes granted by way of the purchase agreements and legal instruments registered on the title. The corporation’s articles of incorporation and bylaws as well as occupancy agreement specifies the cooperative’s rules.
The word cooperative is also used to describe a non-share capital co-op model in which fee-paying members obtain the right to occupy a bedroom and share the communal resources of a house owned by a cooperative organization. Such is the case with student cooperatives in some college and university communities across the United States.
As a legal entity, a co-op can contract with other companies or hire individuals to provide it with services, such as a maintenance contractor or a building manager. It can also hire employees, such as a manager or a caretaker, to deal with specific things that volunteers may prefer not to do or may not be good at doing, such as electrical maintenance.
In non-equity cooperatives and in limited equity cooperatives, a shareholder in a co-op does not own real estate, but a share of the legal entity that does own real estate. Co-operative ownership is quite distinct from condominiums where people own individual units and have little say in who moves into the other units. Because of this, most jurisdictions have developed separate legislation, similar to laws that regulate companies, to regulate how co-ops are operated and the rights and obligations of shareholders.
Each resident or resident household has membership in the co-operative association. In non-equity cooperatives, members have occupancy rights to a specific suite within the housing co-operative as outlined in their “occupancy agreement”, or “proprietary lease”, which is essentially a lease. In ownership cooperatives, occupancy rights are transferred to the purchaser by way of the title transfer.
Since the housing cooperative holds title to all the property and housing structures, it bears the cost of maintaining, repairing and replacing them. This relieves the member from the cost and burden of such work. In that sense, the housing cooperative is like the landlord in a rental setting. However, another hallmark of cooperative living is that it is nonprofit, so that the work is done at cost, with no profit motive involved.
In some cases, the co-op follows Rochdale Principles where each shareholder has only one vote. Most cooperatives are incorporated as limited stock companies where the number of votes an owner has is tied to the number of shares owned by the person. Whichever form of voting is employed it is necessary to conduct an election among shareholders to determine who will represent them on the board of directors (if one exists), the governing body of the co-operative. The board of directors is generally responsible for the business decisions including the financial requirements and sustainability of the co-operative. Although politics vary from co-op to co-op and depend largely on the wishes of its members, it is a general rule that a majority vote of the board is necessary to make business decisions.