Cohousing Projects "Masterclass on money and documents"

Last week I attended a webinar organised by Cohousing Projects on “money and documents”. It can be watched here (in Dutch): https://www.cohousingprojects.com/verhaal/masterclass-centen-documenten/

The webinar consisted of a notary and three co-housings talking about their experience . The three co-housings were Vinderhoute, Botanico and Indruk. The first one is up and running since a couple of years, the other two just moved in.

Legal provisions
  • See slide starting at 5:20 on the difference between a “bouwgroup” (group that builds) and a “bouwheer” (project developer)
  • None of the groups has made use of the “Law Breyne” formula. This is more for project developers or apartment blocks with co-owned common spaces like an elevator. If one would use the Law Breyne it is mandatory to get a syndic (but this can be one of the inhabitants).
  • If you don’t make use of the Law Breyne, it is mandatory to have a “maatschap” or “société de droit commun. This is basically just a contract between a number of people, without any legal personality. In English it seems to be translated into “partnership”. The partnership ceases to exist when the co-housing is built (see slide starting at 08:17).
  • To make up for the lack of legal personality of the partnership, all co-housings also set up another legal structure such as an asbl or a cooperative.
  • Starting from the acquisition of the site, there is the “the basic act” and the “internal rules” (in French "ROI: règlement d’ordre interieur) of the co-owned property, which is signed at the notary’s, that defines a number of key legal agreements, e.g. how the co-housing will be managed (structure of the Board, frequency of the General Assembly etc.
Bookkeeping
  • Starts around 25:30

  • For co-owned properties with less than 20 units it is allowed to submit a simplified financial report. Above 20 units it has to be in the official format.

  • Reserve capital: like in apartment blocks, this is money for unforeseen expenses that is kept on a separate account. The key point is that this money cannot be recovered by the owners. When a unit is sold, the owner’s share of the reserve capital is transferred to the next owner (or if this is agreed, the buyer needs to pay that sum to the seller).

  • If there was leftover money from the “partnership”, this money was usually transferred to the reserve capital.

  • In Vinderhoute they feed the reserve capital by renting out their parking spaces (including to inhabitants). The other co-housings did not seem to raise money to feed the reserve capital (typically done 3-monthly in an apartment block).

Insurance
  • Starts at 34:15 [ok, my time annotations may not be perfect :upside_down_face:]
  • Some groups said that they took some extra liability insurances to avoid any possible conflicts in case something would go wrong.
  • At least one group also made it mandatory for everybody to take a personal liability insurance [personal note: this costs about 85 euro per year for a single person]
Common costs and investments
  • Starts around 35:00
  • Vinderhoute listed the following items: gas, water and electricity in the common spaces, the garden, technical appliances, cleaning of the windows, small repairs, supplies, insurance. They have some income from their solar panels.
  • Vinderhoute quoted the following numbers (annually; they have 19 units):
    – 15000 euro operational costs
    – 7000 euro investments
    – 4500 euro income from solar panels
    – This would imply a cost of about 100 euro per unit per month
  • Botanico quoted the following numbers (annually, for 28 units):
    – 35-40 k euro operational budget
    – electricity: 12 k euro
    – cleaning of common spaces: 7-8 k euro [personal note: that’s about 150 euro per week, which seems a lot]
    – insurance: 4k
    – maintenance contracts: 3k
    – water: 2k (they noted that due to the large volumes used they land in a “high usage” tariff, making it a bit more expensive)
  • Indruk
    – They just moved in so they don’t know yet. As a provision they are charging every unit 110 euro per month, which they think is an overestimation of what is needed.
Personal expenses
  • Almost all groups make some goods and services to be paid “on tick” (i.e. there is a list on which you note down how much you consume).
  • For drinks the common price setting seemed to be “purchasing price + 10%” (the 10% serve to cover the drinks that were forgotten to be ticked)
  • For laundry the common system seemed to be that the price covers the consumption of water and energy plus the amortisation of the machines. It was acknowledged though that this was not easy to calculate
  • Indruk:
    – Drinks (honesty bar)
    – Laundry (contributions are calculated such that they cover operational and capital costs)
  • Vinderhoute:
    – Parking spaces (rented)
    – Laundry (1.20 euro for 30°, 1.60 euro for 60° and 2 euro for 90°)
    – Drinks (honesty bar)
    – Printer
    – Sauna
    – Furthermore they have a rule that anything that is placed in shared spaces (e.g. barbecue) can be used for free. The exception is a running mill that belongs to one of the inhabitants. For this they have a system in which inhabitants can purchase a “subscription” to the owner.
  • Reference was made to a tool called “Sanderuskist” [Sanderus box, can’t find it online; I think it’s just a fancy Excel sheet?] which seems to be commonly used to calculate who owns whom how much.
Attribution keys

So how do you distribute some of the common costs? If there are x units, does every unit pay 1/x? Or do you use “attribution keys” to distribute some costs in a way that is considered more fair? Most groups in this webinar seemed to prefer the latter.

  • Starts around 1:00:00
  • In Vinderhoute for example they have an attribution key for their operational costs based on the number of people living in one unit, but they also have a number of very specific attribution keys. For coffee and tea in the common living room for example they have a special key “no kids” [I think he means that units with kids pay less] and they also have a “chicken key” (people who contribute to tending the chickens pay more).
Insurance #2
  • Fire insurance is taken in common [this is the same in my apartment block]
  • One group took an insurance for damage done by third parties to avoid conflicts (in Dutch a “BA uitbating”, which stands for burgerlijke aansprakelijkheid or personal liability)
Other topics
  • From here on too much time had been spent and the discussion went less into details. Topics quickly covered budget planning, attribution of building costs, negotations with the entrepreneur and mortgages (a transition credit can only be taken for 2 years)
  • In the Q&A reference was made to an app called “Podio, which is used in Vinderhoute. Because they are a not-for-profit they pay 500 euro per year. The app can be tweaked (you need somebody who is IT savvy though) and can be used to set up forums, meals, booking of certain rooms etc
  • Use of the common rooms: most groups didn’t seem to have put limitations on how much somebody could use a certain common room. Most groups also seemed to have a booking system. The use of the common living room during Christmas and New Year’s is agreed consensually (the room cannot be booked in advance).
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Because this became a pretty long post, I’m writing up my personal key take-aways in a new message.

These are things I learned or found interesting:

  • Book keeping: if there are more than 20 units you need a masochist or a professional accountant.
  • Taking care of proper insurance seems like a good idea.
  • 100 euro per month for common costs is probably a bit too much for people who live on a very small budget.
  • Making some personal goods and services to be paid on tick seems like a good idea to me. In my scouting group for example our bar worked like an honesty bar, and it worked without any problems. Keeping it as simple as possible however seems like a must.
  • I am not convinced about the attribution keys. Keeping it simple and more importantly keeping a philosophy of sharing things seems like a win to me.
  • This Podio app for communication and internal organisation seems worth exploring.
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Well done, very useful and full of juicy info!

Thanks for this, interesting!

I like to see how this kind of group can build on legal structures/precedent which exists for more commercial relationships. e.g. In Germany at least, there is a pretty well-developed structure for relationships between the owners of homes within an apartment building. This leaves a lot of room for operating collectively, even if most ‘owners assemblies’ just end up outsourcing everything to a professional building management firm.

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