Documents Your Group Might Need

Depending on what you're doing, you may need just one written document, or you may decide—or be required—to have more than one. There are two types of paperwork your group might have: Documents to be used only among yourselves (such as house rules for a shared home or an agreement to share a car) and documents that are legally required (such as articles of incorporation for a nonprofit or a bill of sale showing that your sharing partner purchased half of your car).

Documents for the Group's Use Only

Simple sharing arrangements require only a basic agreement. Larger groups or arrangements that involve more "moving parts," such as fluctuating activities and schedules, and members who come and go, might be better served by creating a few internal agreements.

The Basic Agreement

For all the reasons above, we think most sharing arrangements will benefit from a basic written agreement. In simple sharing arrangements, like a small tool sharing group, probably one basic agreement will suffice. This document should explain how your group will work, covering as many of the topics in Chapter 3 as are relevant to your arrangement (see "What Your Basic Agreement Should Include," below, for more information).

You may supplement the basic agreement with other documents, such as a list of shared items, a schedule for using shared items, a member list, fee information, instructions for using shared property, information for new members, and so on.

When to Use Multiple Agreements

For some sharing agreements, and especially for groups whose activities, membership, or schedules change frequently, it may make sense to use more than one agreement. Multiple agreements help you maintain continuity and flexibility as your group changes or grows. Some agreements will be relatively stable, while other agreements may change on a regular basis. (Our government works in a similar fashion. We have a Constitution that is rarely amended, statutes (laws) that change sometimes, and many sets of administrative rules and procedures that are updated quite often.)

There are some agreements that you will rarely, if ever, need to change. These documents usually describe the basic purpose and nature of your group, the way the group is structured and governed, and how ownership rights are distributed. Examples include bylaws (often the basic governing document used by nonprofits and corporations) or a tenancy-in-common (TIC) agreement, which describes the property rights and responsibilities of owners in a co-owned building. These documents are designed to change infrequently, often requiring unanimous agreement or a two-thirds majority of members to approve a change. As such, they preserve certain basic qualities of the group or ownership rights, even when the group's activities or membership may fluctuate.

Other agreements are designed to be more flexible and evolve along with the group. In a shared housing arrangement, for example, the TIC agreement may be supplemented by a "cohousing agreement" detailing day-to-day matters, such as rules about pets, smoking, sharing expenses for the garden, rules for construction and remodeling jobs, and so on.

You might also want different agreements for different phases of your project, such as one agreement to purchase land and construct housing, and a second agreement about your living arrangements once the shared housing is finished.

Documents Required by Law

Your group might be required by law to have certain documents. For example, to create a nonprofit to administer a car sharing program, you will have to file a document, typically called "articles of incorporation," with the secretary of state's office in your state. Or, if you are going to share real estate, you will have to file a deed specifying, among other things, how you are taking title (for example, as joint tenants or tenants in common) with the land records office in the county where the property is located.

In addition to any documents you're legally required to file, your group might want or need to create additional documents dictated by the type of group you form and what you plan to do. For example, if you form a nonprofit to run a carsharing program, you will probably want to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS and your state tax agency, a process that requires you to file additional paperwork. You will want to adopt bylaws, which establish the rules for how your group will elect directors, hold meetings, make decisions, and so on. You'll need to document the group's decisions, most likely by taking minutes of meetings. For the cars themselves, you'll need title documents, proof of insurance coverage, perhaps smog certificates, and so on. As you can see, the list of documents your group might need—in addition to the basic agreements and other paperwork you use amongst yourselves—can get pretty long.

If you're forming a separate legal entity, purchasing real estate, or starting a large group, it's a good idea to talk to a lawyer about the documents your group will be legally required to prepare.

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