Casual cohousing (sometimes called "cohousing light," "cohousing cousins," or "cohousing-inspired") is sort of a scaled-down version of cohousing. A casual cohousing community might have two to five households, each with its own separate dwelling unit, plus shared common spaces. Casual cohousing residents may also share meals, childcare, purchasing goods and services, and so on. Casual cohousing might be set up in a duplex or multiplex, accessory units (such as in-law apartments), or a small condominium project. Housing that isn't officially joined can also be turned into cohousing. For example, neighbors might decide to take down the fence between their houses and share their outdoor space and other common facilities.
If casual cohousing sounds right for you, there are two main ways to make it happen:
The most common ownership structures used in casual cohousing are tenancy in common (TIC) or condominium. Both of these forms are described in more detail in the article “Legal and Financial Issues to Consider When Co-Owning a Home” in this section. Often, multiunit properties are initially purchased by a group as a TIC, because that's the automatic form of ownership created when a group buys property together. The owners can later convert their property into condominiums (which typically requires the help of a lawyer and surveyor). Cohousing owners often prefer condominiums because they are easier to finance and resell than TICs, and may provide a greater feeling of autonomy to residents.
At the same time, the TIC form of ownership can be crafted to feel much like a condominium in a multiunit context. To achieve this, TIC units should be appraised, ownership percentages divided carefully, and a TIC agreement should make clear everyone's respective ownership and use rights to the property. In this way, everyone's ownership interests are delineated and protected, banks are more likely to provide fractional financing, and owners can more easily resell their units. In sum, it will feel like condo ownership.
No matter how you own the units, your group will share ownership of and responsibility for common areas and property. It's important to come up with agreements about some of the following money issues:
Depending on your ownership arrangement, your casual cohousing will likely be governed by multiple tiers of documents. If you own the property together as tenants in common (TIC), your primary governing document will be a TIC agreement, (and possibly a "cohousing agreement," described below).
If you have formed a four-unit condominium, your first tier of documents will be the deeds, which declare ownership of certain units as well as partial ownership of common areas. Your second tier document will be the CC&Rs, which include many of the basic agreements about how your property is divided and shared, such as:
Your third tier of documents may govern the specifics of how your cohousing is managed and how your group makes decisions. This is often included in a document called the bylaws. If your community association is formed as a nonprofit corporation (which provides the benefit of liability protection), you will also have articles of incorporation, a short document you file with the state to create your nonprofit.
All of the documents in the first three tiers should be drafted by a lawyer who is familiar with state and local real estate law.
Finally, you will likely have a fourth tier of documents, which you can draft yourself and change as often as necessary. The primary document, often called a "community agreement," "community rules," or a "cohousing agreement," lists many of the day-to-day details of how your cohousing group operates, including:
Check out the Cohousing Association of the United States for detailed information on various communities and lots of great articles and links on cohousing. Also, a useful book on the subject is Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities, by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett (New Society Publishers).