You'll need to decide what responsibilities each of you will take for shared property or shared activities. For example, each cohousing resident may agree to take partial responsibility for yard maintenance. In a childcare co-op, each parent may make a commitment to provide childcare for one day each week.
Keeping It Flexible
In many cases, it won't be necessary to come up with a detailed agreement delineating specific responsibilities. Sometimes, you may not know how you want to divide the work until you dive in and really get a feel for what's involved. In this situation, you may want to agree to meet in a few months and discuss the division of labor.
Or, the people in your group may just instinctively pull their own weight and make adjustments to ensure fair distribution of responsibility.
EXAMPLE: Five seniors purchase a five-bedroom house with the intent of creating a supportive community and sharing household expenses and responsibilities. Because they want to keep their division of responsibilities flexible, they write the following in their co-owner agreement:
"We will share equally the responsibilities and duties related to upkeep and maintenance of the house and yard. From time to time, we will meet to discuss what needs to be done, and decide who will do what. If someone feels that he or she is doing a disproportionate amount of the work, we will discuss ways to distribute responsibilities more equally. We agree to be flexible and willing to compromise regarding our responsibilities and duties, in order to accommodate everyone's personal needs, abilities, and schedules."
Assigning Roles and Tasks
Other sharing arrangements may require a little more thought, planning, and delegation. It often works well to create different roles and tasks for each person, depending on particular skills or interests. In sharing arrangements where the group keeps records of finances, assets, meetings, and decisions, for example, you might designate one or two people (a secretary and treasurer) to be responsible for these tasks. These are positions that can rotate from time to time. You may also designate someone to be responsible for organizing and facilitating meetings. This is a job that can rotate frequently, even meeting by meeting. Someone else can be the central scheduler—setting the mealsharing or child care schedules. In a carsharing group, a member who is mechanically inclined could be solely responsible for routine car maintenance.
In some groups, the majority of responsibilities are delegated to a single member, in lieu of dues or in exchange for greater benefits. The group may also compensate that member for the added duties.
Paying a member or providing free membership shares in exchange for services raises some tax and employment law issues. For example, the IRS may consider the value of what the member receives in exchange for work to be taxable income. A member who works for the group on a regular basis may legally qualify as the group's employee, with all the legal requirements that entails, from payroll withholding to overtime rules, workers' compensation coverage, and more. Talk to a lawyer before you arrange a membership-for-service deal, to see whether you can steer clear of these complications.
Sometimes, the group may want to delegate certain responsibilities to an outside person or group. For example, in many condominium complexes and vacation timeshares, the upkeep and management of shared property is frequently delegated to a management company. For a more detailed discussion of this type of arrangement, see Chapter 6.