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Having a problem with your housing co-operative?

CHF Canada often gets questions from co op members having problems with their housing co ops. CHF Canada is not an advocacy organization for co op members. But we can offer co op members some advice on how to settle disputes with their co ops. Here is some information for members about how to deal with a problem they are having with their housing co op. You can also download this information as a pdf file.

Additional information on Running your housing co‑op is available to CHF Canada members on the Membersí Network.

What to expect from your co‑op

When you moved into your co‑op unit you signed an occupancy agreement or lease. Thatís a contract that says

  • what you agree to in exchange for the right to live in your unit
  • what the co‑op agrees to do for you as a resident.

For example, your occupancy agreement will say that you have to pay your housing charges on time and follow the rules of the co op. In return you can expect that the co op will look after the property and supply basic services such as heat, hot water, and electricity. Your occupancy agreement may say you will pay for these services. But always check your occupancy agreement. If you think you are not getting the services you have been promised, you need to take the matter up with your co opís staff or the board.

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The law and your co‑op

There are laws and agreements that affect your housing co‑op. Co‑ops are organized under the legislation for co‑ops in your province or territory. That legislation is usually known as the co‑op act, or a name close to that. Your co‑op must follow this act. It must follow other laws too, like the human rights code that applies to you, and municipal by-laws and regulations.

There are also contracts that affect your co‑op. Co‑ops have contracts with the government called operating agreements (for Ontario program co‑ops the operating agreement has been replaced by the Housing Services Act). These agreements say how your co‑op gets assistance from the government and what the rules of the program are. Your co‑op must follow its operating agreement. Some co‑ops have other agreements with the government that provide rent supplements or extra help for co‑ops in financial trouble. Co‑ops must follow these agreements too.

If you think your co op is not following the law or its own rulesoperating agreement, then ask about it. If necessary you can use the process for handling a dispute with your co op (see below).

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Disagreeing with what your co‑op decides

Co‑ops decide things democratically ó by the majority vote of the board or the members, depending on the issue. Some members may not agree with what has been decided. Part of living in a co‑op is accepting the decision of the majority Ė even if you donít agree with it. Thatís how a democracy works.

So to make sure your ideas are heard you need to work within the democratic structure of your co op. Before deciding whether you should raise an issue with the board or at a members meeting youíll need to be clear about which group has the legal right to make a decision on your issue. Find out how to get something on the agenda for a meeting of the board or of the members. Learn to present your ideas positively so the board or the members will understand them and react favourably. And as we said: accept the decision of the members, even if itís not the one you hoped for. If you arenít happy with your board, remember Ė elections are never that far away.

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Having a dispute with your co‑op

Sometimes members have disputes with their co ops because they think the co op is doing something it doesnít have the right to do. First letís be clear about roles. Your co‑opís board of directors is responsible for the governance of the co‑op and is legally accountable for the co‑opís affairs; the members are not. The board is charged with the job of making decisions in accordance with the co‑opís by-laws, rules and policies, and must act in the best interests of the co‑op.

The board is accountable to the members, but that doesnít mean that the members have the same level of authority that the board has to direct the co‑opís affairs. Most provincial co‑op acts oblige the board to manage the business of the co‑op. This means that the board has the authority to make all decisions except those explicitly reserved to the members in the act and the rules, and in turn the directors are liable for the consequences of those decisions. Members shouldnít try to do the boardís work in general meetings. In fact, the members do not have the authority to make or overturn decisions that are the boardís right to make.

Members are responsible for some key governance decisions such as making rules, appointing the auditor and, most importantly, choosing directors who will act ethically and in the best interests of the co‑op. For more information about the boardís governance and leadership roles, have a look at CHF Canadaís publication Getting Governance Right.

If a member has a dispute with the co‑op then there are two ways to solve the dispute:

  • democratically, using the co opís rules and procedures, or
  • legally, using laws that govern co ops.

If you have a concern, tell your co‑opís manager or your board. You should put your concerns in writing. Ask someone to help you if necessary. Your letter should describe your problem and ways you think your issues can be resolved. Keep a copy of your letter.

You may wish to have an issue considered by the members of your co‑op. You may do this by writing to the board and asking them to put an item on the agenda of the next members meeting. But remember, only bring issues to the members that are within their authority to decide. Sometimes, a board may choose to consult the members on an issue that falls within their authority. And it is the boardís decision to follow or not follow the membersí advice or feedback. Remember, your board is responsible to act in the best interests of your co‑op. This means that sometimes the board may make decisions that some members may not agree with. Itís the boardís right to do that.

If you do not get a response from the co‑op or if you believe that the board has not followed the co‑opís rules then as a last resort you may decide to call a special membersí meeting. This requires a procedure called requisitioning a meeting and it should not be used lightly.

Before you decide to call a membersí meeting, consider if your problem involves a decision that is within the boardís authority to make. If your problem is about your co‑opís rules and you want to change them then calling a members meeting is one way you may be able to make a change.

If you want the members to decide something at the meeting you may need to propose a resolution to the meeting. Otherwise you may find that nothing is decided, even though you have won the support of the members.

You must accept the decision of the members even if you donít agree with it, because co ops are democracies. If you think your co op is not following the law you need to get legal advice.

Important note: Donít call a membersí meeting to overturn a legitimate decision of the board. You must make sure that the business of the meeting does not lie outside the power of the members to decide.

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Evictions and expulsions

If your co‑op is trying to evict or expel you, the co‑op must

  1. follow proper legal procedures
  2. have grounds for eviction or expulsion.

Landlord and tenant legislation applies to housing co‑ops in the following provinces:

  • Nova Scotia
  • Quebec

In all other provinces landlord and tenant legislation does not apply to housing co‑ops. There are different rules for co‑op evictions.

Check the co‑opís by-laws and the provincial co‑op act to see if your co‑op has followed the correct procedure for evictions. These documents also say if you can appeal the boardís decision to the members, and tell you how.

If you live in BC, check to see if the co‑op is terminating your membership or your occupancy agreement. If your membership is being terminated, then the co‑opís Rules and the Co‑op Act will apply. If your occupancy agreement is being terminated, only the terms of the occupancy agreement apply.

You can get legal advice if you donít understand these rules or you think you were not treated fairly.

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Where to get information

You will need to check your own co‑opís by-laws or rules, policies and, possibly, minutes of previous membersí meetings before you do anything about your problem. Get copies from the co‑op if you donít have them. Members have a right to these documents.

You may need to check the co‑op act that governs your co‑op to see what it says about your problem. You can find it through this web site www.chfcanada.coop. Your provincial human rights code may say something about your problem, if it has to do with human rights.

If you need legal advice, you can get this from

  • community legal services
  • a lawyer.

A lawyer or legal advisor will need to see your co‑opís by-laws or rules and policies as well as any letters between you and the co‑op.

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The co‑op housing sectorís role

CHF Canada and local federations provide advice and support to their members. Our members are housing co‑ops, not the residents of housing co‑ops. CHF Canada and your local federation help co‑ops with problems but only if the co‑opís board asks us.

Federations help their member co‑ops through

  • advice and information
  • training for boards and committees
  • chairing meetings
  • publications for co‑ops.

You might want to suggest that your board get help from the co‑op housing sector for a difficult problem. And your co‑op might have publications put out by the co‑op sector that could help resolve problems. But CHF Canada and local federations of housing co‑ops cannot take the side of any individual member. And they have no legal or administrative control over the housing co‑op.

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Glossary

Agenda Ė Agenda Ė A list of business a meeting will deal with.

Appeal Ė To make a request for a decision to be reconsidered. For example sometimes a member can appeal a board decision to the co op members. The members at a membersí meeting will consider the appeal and the boardís decision and make a decision. This is only the case if the members have the legal authority to hear the appeal and make the decision.

Evict Ė A legal process to take away a co‑op memberís membership and right to live in a unit in the co‑op. Some provinces use the word expulsion. Each province has its own rules for eviction or expulsion. Check your provinceís co‑op act and the by-laws and policies of your co‑op.

Expel Ė A legal process to take away a co‑op memberís membership and right to live in a unit in the co‑op. Some provinces use the word eviction. Each province has its own rules for expulsion or eviction. Check your provinceís co‑op act and the by-laws and policies of your co‑op.

Human rights code Ė A provincial law that ensures everyone has equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in specific areas such as jobs, housing and services. Human rights codes prohibit discrimination on grounds that are outlined in each code.

Membersí meeting Ė Members come together to discuss and make decisions on co op issues. Each member has one vote.

Policies Ė This word has different meanings in different co ops. In general, policies set rules for co op members. Usually they cover areas such as parking, arrears, and pets. Some co ops pass by-laws instead of policies.

Procedures Ė The steps to carry out by-laws and policies. By-laws and policies say what must be done. Procedures say how it is to be done. Usually the board of directors approves procedures. Members must approve by-laws and policies.