Social Community Survey
Comar LLP provides legal services to “social communities,” an umbrella term we use to describe emerging associations or organization united by a shared purpose, activity, IRL platform or venue.
We have developed this survey to help us better understand the unique visions and priorities of our social community clients and friends and how we might best deploy our legal structures, tools and documentation suites to help social communities fully realize their visions.
We appreciate your time!
Community Founding and Limitation of Liability
Who are the founders of the community? Phil Levin, Kristen Berman
What inspired the founders to create the community? To live the
What is the mission statement of the social community? Mutually Assured Non-Complacency
How was the community funded and capitalized? Was founder capital used, was outside or member capital raised, or was bank or other lender financing obtained? We rent the space using a vanilla lease. Kristen and Phil put up deposit and initial capital (~$50k). We were paid back by residents over the course of the year.
Have the founders and/or managing members organized a limited liability entity to protect themselves from potential personal liability? No
Do the founders and/or members act as guarantors on any of the social community’s obligations? E.g., the lease, contracts with third parties? Phil and Kristen are master tenants on the lease.
Do the founders and/or members periodically recapitalize the company and, if so, what form does such recapitalization take (debt, equity, etc.)? Does your operating agreements authorize capital calls? No
Do the founders and/or contributing members expect to be repaid or to recoup their investments or loans to the community? E.g., repurchase of founding equity, repayment of notes or loans. Yes, they’ve been mostly repaid.
Does the community carry insurance? Are the founders named as beneficiaries? Directors and officers insurance? Premises insurance? Business liability insurance? Insurance for negligence? Just individual renter’s insurance.
Has the community entered into any partnership, sponsorship or other contracts with existing organizations? No, aside from Embassy Network (no written agreement)
Does the community expect to enter into any other major contracts? Not right now
What are the community’s top contractual priorities? E.g., our negotiating lease terms, vendor agreements, etc. Nothing big with this community. We are working on a more complex second version of this community.
Are there key teachings or writings that you consider important for the community? The school of Zarinah Agnew. We have a few google docs with accumulated learnings
Does the community have forms of intellectual property that would be considered “trade secrets” and subject to confidentiality and protection from the outside world? We’ve accumulated some nice learnings about how to run a community. We want to open source and share where possible. No desire to keep as a trade secret.
Community Membership and Communication
What is the application process like? What is the acceptance rate? Is there an application fee? No fee.
We source people from Craigslist and our own networks. We do open houses and then interview the people that caught our eye. A handful of people do interviews and then we choose.
Acceptance rate is <5% based on Craigslist applicants, but not all of them would have wanted to live there at the end.
When people join the community, do you envision them paying dues or some other membership fee? Yes, We pool $245 for month per person for communal expenses.
Has there ever been disputes about admission criteria, community membership decisions, or allegations of favoritism or bias? We’ve had the types of debates and disagreements you would expect, but nothing that has risen to the level of “dispute”
What are your members buying with their membership fees or dues? For example, if you’re setting up a coworking space, dues might cover the cost of accessing the space and related activities. Utilities, food, event expenses, general house supplies (e.g. paper towels), space improvements. I can send your our full financial tracking system if you interested
What is the commitment you are expecting from your members? How involved with the community do you want them to be? Can they join similar, related communities, or do you want them to be exclusive to yours? Here are our commitments. No exclusivity.
- We commit to each other ... to be present in a general sense --> We will make our presence felt in the house, through communication channels, and through sustained interest in each other's lives.
- We commit to each other ... to be present in a specific sense --> We will prioritize important house events over other obligations. This includes house meetings, house retreats, and major events. This critical mass will create a sense of peak experience.
- We commit to each other ... to create and maintain a comfortable, clean space
- We commit to each other .. to build a space that reflects or goals and values, whether or not it confirms to anyone's expectations.
[Mutually assured non-complacency]
- We commit to each other ... to push the boundaries of this community experiment and challenge external norms --> We want to exist in a state of constant experimentation and questioning. We believe in progress and a better world and that we can build a microcosm of that world as a demonstration case.
- We commit to each other ... to not let the individuals to fall into their own status quo ruts --> We will challenge and push each other and make complacency uncomfortable.
We commit to each other ... to act in a utilitarian sense with the general community's interests in our hearts --> Not everything that happens will benefit us as individuals, but the sum of all these things will create an abundance that makes all of us better off. We commit to enthusiastically accepting individual loss for communal gain and not shying away from actions that negatively impact a few for the benefit of the whole.
How do you expect that members might leave the community if they no longer wanted to be part of it? They just move out, with 30 days notice.
Is the membership flat or hierarchical? Are their levels or ranks of members? Are there opportunities for members to become part of the decisionmaking structure? Membership is flat, with the exception of certain “master leastholder” privileges that Kristen and Phil reserve. Here are those privileges
Phil and Kristen’s special powers:
P + K are the master tenants and leaseholders. As such, they reserve a few special powers. These special powers have never been used to date and hopefully will never be used. They exist as a backstop if the communal machinery is too jammed up to be fixed.
· Asking individuals to leave the community
· Disbanding the community: The nuclear option. Geoff who runs another community called Monument said he reserves the right to end the experiment if it gets “either mean or boring.” We think that’s a pretty good bar.
· Overruling recruiting decisions when it may lead to excessive vacancy: All housemates bear the cost of the first vacant room as a group. P + K eat the cost on the second and beyond. If we feel that communal action (or inaction) will result in a second vacancy (or more), we reserve the right to invite housemates ourselves without full approval of the group.
Everyone has equal opportunity to participate in decisions. We run on a somewhat anarchist do-ocracy. Decisions get made informally when a critical mass agrees.
Does the community ever subsidize membership fees or dues? If so, how do you subsidize dues or fees - discounts, scholarships, deferrals? We’ve subsidized both dues and rent in specific instances. We did a subsidized “artist in residence.” This was one-time and ad-hoc. We’d do it again but we don’t have a specific permanent program around it
Do the community even enter into financial transactions with members? E.g., serving as a mortgage lender or guarantor on outside business transactions? No
Doe the community have an official social media policy and/or acknowledged or implicit policy regarding posting and/or not posting about the community’s and members’ activities? No
Are you concerned about members slandering, or defaming the community, its members or founders or using club secrets to extort members or founders? Somewhat. Past members with a bad experience.
Do you have a mechanism and procedure to deal with claims of harassment and/or abuse or other member misconduct? Investigation, board action, notice, hearing, discipline? We have the Embassy Network as mediators and have people sign their harassment policy when they move in
How do you communicate with members? Do you have your own internal communication platform? Email, text, apps, social media, etc.? Slack, email list, groupme
Do you consider yourself a private membership club and thus outside of regulation of anti-discrimination laws? Not sure.
Have you considered the application of federal and state acts (and applicable exemptions): Federal Civil Rights Act; State Anti-Discrimination Laws; Americans With Disabilities Acts? Not particularly. We don’t discriminate in our application process.
Community Structure and Expansion
Does the community intend to generate profit for its equity holders and investors (as a traditional business organization), or does it intend to operate as a benefit corporation, or a not-for-profit organization? It’s intended to run break-even. Any excess money is kept in the entity.
What is the primary source of community revenue? Member dues and rent
What is the primary source of community liability? The lease!
Has the community ever been involved in litigation? No
How is the community currently managed? How are decisions made for the community? E.g., board of directors, consensus, central decisionmaker who governs with advice and counsel of the membership? Fairly informally with a do-ocracy. We don’t use any formal governance structure.
How are leaders such as board members or officers chosen? By stockholders? By the community at large? By other board members? Through an election? No officers
Are disputes among community members a cause for concern? Does your community have an established or informal dispute-resolution process? Yes, we use the Embassy Network to mediate disputes we can’t handle internally.
What cities do you intend to operate in? After you’ve created the first social community, do you envision creating new colonies for the community? If so, where? Phil and Kristen plan on creating additional communities in the Bay Area.
What do you believe new communities will need from the original community in order to be successful? Lessons learned, people who buy into the vision.
How much control and ownership do you want to have over any new extension communities? Do they answer to the original community, or are they fairly independent? New community would be an independent and separate venture from the first one.
Do you currently own or intend to own or manage real property? Intend to with new community
Does the community own or operate any leases with real property? Yes, $15.5k per month rent
Does the community have or intend to have or use any valuable intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc.)? Not for now
Does the community intend to develop or sell digital or physical products or services? If so, which products or services? Not for now, aside from membership dues.
What would you describe as the most important legal issues facing your social community? Risk of rent control laws. People causing problems then refusing to leave community
What are your top organizational goals and priorities? Motivate people to put their hearts into the experience. Keep everyone happy and minimize conflict
Is there anything else that would be helpful for us to know in structuring our range of legal and organizational offerings for social communities? For our current community (vanilla rental property) the rent control issues are the biggest point of risk. This keeps me up at night.
For the cohousing community we anticipate a lot of legal services required, as we will own property jointly.