Property and Legal Organisation

The question of who owns the buildings used by the project is an extremely important one. One of the worst mistakes that groups can make is that one individual buys the property and then assumes that a fully-fledged, long-lasting community of equal members can emerge on that property. There can be a fine community-feeling for years, but eventually the fact that one person is the owner and the others are tenants will influence the dynamics in the group and almost inevitably cause problems.

The owner holds much more responsibility and therefore should have more rights than people who are not owning the house; however, this causes an imbalance that has a negative impact on the community. If, instead, the owner has fewer rights, but rather more responsibility and obligations – then it causes an imbalance as well. Even if over the lifetime of the owner, none of the expected problems arise, upon the owner’s death, the community can have huge problems because of property issues. The community may have to pay a lot of taxes for being able to own the house.

Communities can only thrive in buildings where every community member has the same rights as other members. For this, several options are possible:

  1. Commonly-owned property: i) Many communities own their buildings as a cooperative. This legal form has been designed for economic activities, where people get together to change something in their lives that is connected with some economic activity.  ii) It is possible to have other legal forms, such as an association or foundation, as owners of facilities – depending on laws in each country. It is always recommended to seek advice to find the right legal form for commonly-owned property.
  2. Community of owners: Houses can also be owned by a community of owners – where everyone owns one condominium, while outside walls and shared spaces are owned by the community of owners. There are special national laws that define what is necessary for such a shared-ownership, where people have maximum freedom in their own apartment, but community issues are regulated for the shared parts of the house.
  3. Being tenants in someone else’s house: For group dynamics it is much easier to be to be tenants in someone else’s house, than to be tenants in the house of one of the members of the group. This is especially true if the house is owned by a big organisation with similar values, for example: housing cooperatives or foundations that look for ethical investments. Such a solution is appropriate if the initiative doesn’t have strong intentions to build their own houses.

Those who want to go deeper into details of ownership, should get acquainted with the concept of “Emphyteusis” or “Lease in Perpetuity”, which is an interesting option between buying and renting. It provides almost the same rights of real “ownership”, but makes it possible to set some standards that need to be respected by all owners. This solution is often chosen in cooperation with a foundation that owns the land and sets some standards for the project.

Example of common ownership: Cooperative

A cooperative is a legal entity that exists in all European Countries and forms one of the most suitable legal forms for community projects. One of the principles of cooperatives is that one person has one vote, regardless of the amount of money they brought into the cooperative. Although details are regulated differently in different countries, a cooperative is a legal form intended for people who want to join forces to reach their goals. Those interested should check the regulations in their country.