A housing co-operative provides housing to its members. As a member of a co-op, you have a say in decisions affecting your housing, and rights and duties under the law.

Understand the legal framework

A housing co-operative, or co-op, is an organization incorporated under the Cooperative Association Act that provides housing to its members. Members purchase a share to join and elect directors to govern the co-op.

Most housing co-ops in BC are non-profit co-ops with a rental (not equity) model of housing. The members are typically people who want to live in a mixed-income community where they have a voice and a vote in decisions affecting their housing.

Under the Cooperative Association Act, a housing co-op must be organized and operated on a cooperative basis. The Act and the regulation under it set out the framework for things like how co-ops are managed, general meetings, voting, and ending membership.

The rules adopted by the co-op provide more detail on things like:

  • the qualifications of members
  • the rights of joint members
  • membership obligations to use co-operative services and to pay fees
  • the transferability of members’ interest in the co-op
  • board of director matters
  • financial matters (such as distributing surplus earnings)
  • conditions and procedures for withdrawing or ending membership

The board of directors can set other rules that are approved by the members at a meeting called to do that.

A co-op’s occupancy agreement is like a lease. It sets out members’ rights and responsibilities as residents.

Members of co-ops work together to govern and manage the co-op through an elected board of directors and various committees. The members themselves, as well as the committees and the board of directors, all hold meetings to deal with things like admitting new members, finance, policy-making, and major decisions for members. Co-ops also hire professional management providers and contract for other services like bookkeeping and maintenance.

Together, co-op members own their housing jointly and control the co-op’s governance and management.

A co-op member must own at least one common share in the association and live in one of the co-op housing units. Normally, a member must be at least 19 years old (although a co-op may allow members as young as 16).

Members can:

  • attend, speak, and vote at general meetings where major decisions are made, such as changing policies and rules, setting housing charges, and electing directors
  • elect the directors, or run for election as one of the directors if they want to help govern the co-op
  • live permanently in their unit as long as they need the housing the co-op provides and accept membership responsibilities (if a co-op ends a person’s membership, the person must leave the co-op — if they don’t, the co-op can apply to court for possession of the person’s unit)
  • use services provided by the co-op, at as close as possible to the actual cost
  • withdraw from the co-op or transfer their share in it to another person with the consent of the co-op’s directors

Joint members

If two or more people are joint members of a co-op, only one of the joint members can be a director at one time, and only the person whose name appears first on the share certificate can vote — unless the co-op’s rules say otherwise. All joint members must pay any assessments, levies, dues, fees, payments, and other charges relating to membership. The co-op can collect that money from any joint member.

Tip

Co-op members are not tenants, so the BC Residential Tenancy Act does not apply to them. If a person paying rent is not a member of the co-op, and the co-op or one of its members is the landlord, the Residential Tenancy Act may apply to those rental units. You should get legal advice if it’s not clear whether residential tenancy laws apply.

Members must follow the co-op rules, which are made by members. They must:

  • follow the rules on parking, maintenance of the housing, and participation in the co-op
  • attend general meetings and meetings of any committee they belong to
  • make their payments to the co-op, in full and on time

The monthly payments co-op members make towards the mortgage, taxes, and operating expenses of the co-op are called “housing charges“, not rent. Some members pay a housing charge based on their income — usually, about 30% of their gross household income. Others pay a housing charge close to market rates.

All money payable is a debt to the co-op. If a member does not pay, the co-op can put a lien (a charge) on the member’s shares. The co-op can also end a person’s membership for failure to pay.

Co-ops govern themselves. The rules and policies of most co-ops have procedures to solve disputes between members and between the association and members. Members should follow those procedures to solve disputes.

If that doesn’t work, members can seek help through arbitration or the court system. Arbitration is like court, but less formal. Arbitration decisions are final unless the co-op’s rules allow the decision to be appealed in court.

If a co-op ends a person’s membership, the person cannot use arbitration to appeal that action — they must go to court, as explained shortly.

A person with a dispute who is no longer a member has six months after leaving the co-op to seek arbitration or go to court.

Housing co-op evictions must follow the Cooperative Association Act and the regulation under it. A co-op can end a person’s membership in any of the following cases:

  • if a person does not pay rent, occupancy charges, or other money they owe for using the premises
  • if the directors believe a person violated a material condition in the occupancy agreement, meaning something fundamental to the agreement
  • for conduct detrimental to the co-op, meaning seriously harmful behaviour

You should look at a co-op’s rules and occupancy agreement to see if they say what behavior will harm the co-op and cause it to end a membership.

A co-op must first give notice of the problem to the person and give them a chance to correct it. A motion to end a person’s membership for one of these reasons needs approval by 75% of all directors in a meeting called for this purpose. The co-op must give the person notice of the directors’ meeting, and let them appear and speak at the meeting.

A person whose membership is ended has the right to a refund of what they paid for their shares, minus any money they owe to the co-op. When a co-op ends a person’s membership, the person’s occupancy agreement also ends, so they can no longer live in the co-op.

Tip

If you are a member of a housing co-op and you have received a letter saying your membership has been terminated, the Community Legal Assistance Society may be able to help.

The person can appeal to the members at the next membership meeting and continue as a member until the appeal is heard. But first, they must notify the directors they plan to appeal. And they must do this within seven days of when they are notified of the directors’ decision to end their membership.

If the members confirm the directors’ decision, the person can apply to the BC Supreme Court to rule that the termination of their membership wasn’t justified — because the co-op violated principles of natural justice or its decision was not reasonably supported by the facts or authorized under the Cooperative Association Act.

Tip

There is a 30-day limit to appeal a housing co-op eviction to the Supreme Court. It is advisable to seek a lawyer’s help to do this, as the documents and process are complex.

A co-op can end a person’s occupancy agreement for any breach of the occupancy agreement. The most common reason is non-payment of housing charges. The co-op’s board of directors must first demand in writing that the person correct the problem. If the person doesn’t correct it, the board can pass a resolution by a simple majority (more than 50%) to end the occupancy agreement.

When the occupancy agreement ends, the person’s membership also ends. They must then leave the co-op. But they can appeal, as described earlier.

If an evicted member does not pay what they owe to the co-op, the co-op can sue them. Claims for $5,000 or less go to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. Claims above $5,000 and up to $35,000 go to Small Claims Court. Claims above $35,000 go to BC Supreme Court.

Get help

The Co-operative Housing Federation of BC website features model rules and information for those living in a housing co-op.

Telephone: 604-879-5111 in Vancouver
Toll-free: 1-866-879-5111
Web: chf.bc.ca

If you are a member of a housing co-op and you have received a letter saying your membership has been terminated, the Community Legal Assistance Society may be able to help.

Telephone: 604-685-3425 in Vancouver
Toll-free: 1-888-685-6222
Web: clasbc.net

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada

Reviewed in February 2018

Time to read: 7 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Silvano Todesco, Citadel Law Corporation

This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

Related

On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Condos, Co-ops & Renting in the section on Home & Neighbours.