Cohousing Community – A legal definition

The UK Cohousing Network recently consulted the established and developing cohousing groups, currently in membership, on both the idea of a standard definition of a ‘cohousing community’ and a first draft of its wording, for the purposes of securing an exemption from the Government’s proposed ban on leasehold houses and limitations on ground rents.

The Network’s members have been very strongly in favour of retaining the ability to sell houses and flats on a leasehold basis, as the most cost effective and efficient way of protecting the principles and purpose of a cohousing project, and the integrity of its future management, to ensure that the principles and purpose can be continued for as long as the cohousing community wish it.

The proposed definition is structured around three core elements:
A cohousing community is a body corporate with a community benefit objective,
The homes and other property owned by a cohousing community can only be used to fulfil its objectives, and
The cohousing community has the power to make their own decisions and must be accountable to all their members for meeting the objectives.

These three elements mirror the structure of the Community Land Trust (CLT) statutory definition. This will also help groups that want to be a cohousing CLT to meet both definitions in a very similar way.

This approach met with very high levels of approval by the cohousing groups which responded to the consultation. Two advanced developing groups raised helpful questions about how households and/or all individual residents of any age could be most appropriately involved in the governance of the cohousing community. It was felt that these were detailed issues that should be determined by each group in response to the unique resident profile and circumstances of their group, and were not material considerations in a legal definition.

The UK Cohousing Network board of directors reviewed the consultation responses, at their meeting on December 21st 2018, and considered some minor revisions to the wording of the originally proposed definition, responding to suggestions from consultees. A final draft of the proposed definition was approved by the directors and follows at Annex A.

The board have agreed to share this definition with:
MHCLG in relation to the Technical Consultation on the proposed ban of leasehold houses and restrictions on ground rent, as supplementary material promised in their earlier joint submission with the National Community Land Trust Network
The Law Commission in response to their currently open consultation (January 7 2019) on Leasehold Enfranchisement (see pp 226-228 https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/leasehold-enfranchisement/), and
The Law Commission in response to their currently open consultation (March 10 2019) on Commonhold (see pp 290-291 https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/commonhold/).

In the first two cases relating to the proposed leasehold changes, we wish to have direct consultations with MHCLG and the Law Commission, in the immediate future, to see whether this definition could be used, subject to any further amendment, as the basis of exemptions to the proposed ban on leasehold houses and ground rent restrictions, and as an extension of existing exemptions to leasehold enfranchisement; either as a bespoke ‘cohousing community’ definition or as supporting information to a single definition for Community Led Housing, to be used in any primary or secondary legislation.

Stephen Hill, MRICS,
Chair UK Cohousing Network
On behalf of the Board of Directors

Annex A: Proposed legal definition of a ‘cohousing community’
1. A cohousing community will comprise residential units (1), together with communal and ancillary facilities, collectively created by members (2) of that community, and with an objective of fostering the social and environmental wellbeing of all its members, as well as contributing to the wellbeing of the wider area in which the cohousing community is located.

2. The management of a cohousing community is shared by all its members, who shall also be members of the body corporate owning the freehold or head leasehold interest in the relevant land (3). All member households (4) occupy their individual residential units on terms that ensure that the cohousing community’s objectives are achieved.

3. The terms of membership and the role of members in decision-making will be determined as appropriate by each cohousing community to ensure accountability to all the members. Members may also include, say, a housing association as the immediate landlord of any social/affordable rented homes.

(1) ‘Residential units’ is the Law Commission’s proposed term to mean both flats and houses to get round the legal problems of defining a ‘house’ or ‘home’.
(2) ‘Members of the community’ for the time being i.e. at any time in the history of the project the numbers of members may only be a proportion of the final number of members capable of being housed.
(3) ‘Relevant land’ will normally be the whole site on which both homes and any communal facilities are built.
(4) ‘Households’ could also include a number of non-related individual adults sharing by agreement. Each cohousing community may determine how each household and its occupants are represented in the governance of the community.