There are some common sense safety precautions for intentional community that idealistic types are likely to ignore. We’re here to encourage you to learn from other’s mistakes, because we don’t want you to lose your enthusiasm by running into the same problems yourself. Be a little skeptical.
Actually, be a lot skeptical. If you’re pretty street smart, you can probably skip this section. If you’re under 30, an idealist, or a trusting type, you need to take a look at this. It’s not to scare you away from investigating intentional community, because idealists maybe more than anyone can benefit from the perspectives and support of trusted others. We’re sharing this because it is inevitable that some who use this site will meet people who take advantage of them. I want it to happen never, or as little as possible. This information can keep you appropriately cautious. See this page of warning that includes how to avoid scammers as well as identify cult-like situations and unhealthy relationships.
Getting to Know Group Members
- The Start page has a number of quick tips to start with. These go into a bit more detail.
- If you have met several times and feel you have good compatibility, try a group weekend project or trip together to get a sense of each other’s habits and reactions to challenging situations, with each of you bringing along someone else you know well.
- Decide on regular times and formats to discuss how it’s going—both good and bad—and to make decisions. Otherwise, unresolved issues can build up and create resentment.
- Communicate openly and avoid making assumptions. It’s easy to put off difficult conversations by telling yourself that you need to first establish rapport first. The Gottman Institute’s 5:1 ratio may be a helpful guide. Their research found that for maintaining relationships during times of conflict, each negative interaction should be balanced by at least five positive. They also found that if there were almost no negative interactions, a relationship was less likely to last, because it signaled that difficulties were being swept under the rug. During times of conflict there should be at least one negative interaction (such as questioning intent or avoiding closeness), for every 11 positive, because the alternative is that conflict doesn’t get resolved except by leaving the relationship. Unasked questions can create misunderstandings. Consider creating your meeting agendas with one challenging topic for each five that seem to be easy to discuss. In a less formal meeting, you might agree to spend a set amount of time discussing a topic you disagree on. Our consultants can help you work thru challenging issues.
Cohousing with Shared Living Space
- Whether renting or long-term leasing, make clear written agreements and get legal advice about any non-standard arrangement before money is exchanged.
- If you are considering sharing a living space, don’t sign a lease together until you’ve tried out a week in each others’ space to see if your lifestyles are as compatible as they seem. See https://www.coabode.org/resources/ebook
- Try renting together for a year before you get serious about buying property together. People can be on their best behavior for quite a while, but after a year, you’ll likely have seen the not-so-impressive sides of each other as well.
Trial runs for community living could take several forms, including the following:
- One member staying for free as a work trade with a group in the forming stage of community
- One member renting month-to-month from another member
- Both members renting a residence or work space together
- Spending a vacation or season in adjacent RV spaces
- Camping together for recreation or volunteer work
- See the Trial Run in the IC Types pages for more details.
Prohibitions and Rules Create Safety
Profile questions in the Prohibitions category touch on several behaviors that can be challenging for families and any group of people who live together: drugs, alcohol, unrestricted access to the home by non-members, and criminality, among other habits or preferences that have some degree of stigma. Communities that choose to be inclusive are serving an important social role, yet they need to preserve the safety of members of the community who might be vulnerable to harm from lack of precautions. Read more on this topic at our page on the Importance of Boundaries.
This page discusses internal group safety. For security from external intruders, see the page on physical security.
After you’ve formed a solid group with similar ideas for co-housing, see the Consultants page for possible realtors or legal consultants in your area who have experience in HOAs or joint property ownership. It is important to ensure your legal agreements are consistent with local laws and your financial and work contributions are recorded. Always keep your own duplicate of contracts and records. When filing business documents, fill out and send the documents together with your partner(s)/group to ensure all names are on the forms. This sounds obvious, but people have been cheated out of their business by sending someone to file forms who changed the names before filing. Read our Contracts page.
Evaluating Established Intentional Communities
Living in an established community is an excellent way to learn about and practice coliving. The Inside Community podcast has an episode on how to visit communities in a way that will be helpful and satisfying to you as a visitor and to the community. Diane Leafe Christian’s book Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community also has many tips on how to be a gracious and welcome guest, such as contributing volunteer time. It is easy for intentional communities to fall briefly into typical organizational dysfunctions such as in-groups and out-groups, bullying, and gossip. What’s more important is to determine whether those dysfunctions are constant. If you look for established intentional communities, carefully evaluate their governance structure and membership structure, and google them for reviews. Find out the number of residents that have been there long term. Ask for at least two long term community members to talk to, or even better, past residents who have left the community. Ask them what the challenges are. Look for records of disputes and lawsuits.
Avoid Legal Hassles
Even if you’ve done nothing illegal or mean-spirited, you still may get hassled at some point. It may be just because you’re trying something the neighbors don’t understand or agree with. Try to get to know your neighbors in the area where you are planning to create your community. This can go a long way toward preventing others from complaining to the authorities. Also, see the page “How to Stay Legal and Fair With Housing.”