Having a problem with 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have contracts with the government called operating agreements (for Ontario program co-ops the operating agreement has been replaced by the Social Housing Reform Act).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 also.
If you think your co-op is not following the law or its operating agreement, then ask about it. If necessary you can use the process for handling a dispute with your co-op (see below). If you can’t get results then you can contact the proper government branch for help. But only do this if your concern is about the law or a government agreement. Don’t contact the government for help with a difference of opinion or an internal dispute with your co-op.
Disagreeing with what your co-op decides
Co-ops decide things democratically – 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 even if you don’t agree with it.
Maybe you have your own opinions about the way your co-op should do things. In a co-op you have the chance to influence your fellow members. Perhaps you have an idea for change at your co-op.
To make sure your ideas are heard you need to work within the democratic structure of your co-op. 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 members will understand them and react favourably. And as we said: accept the decision of the members, even if it’s not the one you hoped for. That is how democracy works.
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 doesn’t have the right to do. There are two ways to solve these problems democratically, using the co-op’s rules and procedures, or legally, using laws that govern co-ops. If you have a complaint about your co-op or the board, tell the board. Here is the process to follow:
- First, write to the board. Ask someone to help you if necessary. Describe your problem and ask to attend a board meeting. Tell the board how you think your issue can be resolved. For example, a conflict can be resolved through mediation. Keep a copy of what you send to the board.
- If you meet with the board and you are still not satisfied, write to the board again and ask to have the issue put on the agenda of the next members’ meeting. Ask the members to decide if the co-op has followed its by-laws or rules and policies. You can suggest that a skilled chairperson, who is not a co-op member, run that part of the meeting.
- If the board will not meet with you or won’t put your issue on the agenda of a members’ meeting you can call a members’ meeting yourself.
You must use a special process to call a members’ meeting. The process is called requisitioning a members’ meeting.
You can find information on this in your co-op’s by-laws (or rules as they are sometimes called) and the act that governs co-ops in your province. It’s usually called the Co-op Act.
You may need to look at both the by-law and the co-op act. Again, try to find someone to give you some help if you need it.
You will have to get the support of other members at your co-op to call a members meeting this way. A certain number of them must agree that the meeting should be held. Your by-laws will tell you how that works. If you are successful, the result will be a members’ meeting at which you can raise your concerns.
At the members’ meeting you will want to make a very clear and simple presentation of your problem. Members will understand your message if it is well organized and calmly presented.
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 presented your opinion on the issues.
You should accept the decision of the members even if you don’t agree with it, because co-ops are democracies. But sometimes co-ops might not know the law. If you think your co-op is not following the law you need to get legal advice.
Where to get information
You will need to check your own co-op’s by-laws or rules, policies and, possibly, minutes of previous members’ meetings before you do anything about your problem. Get copies from the co-op if you don’t 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. 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-op’s by-laws or rules and policies as well as any letters between you and the co-op.
The co-op housing sector’s 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 can help co-ops with problems but only if the co-op’s 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.
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 any housing co-op.