RV Park Co-Ops 

What is a Co-Op?

A "Co-Operative", more commonly just called a "Co-Op" is an organization designed to operate for the benefit of a group who are also the owners.  It is true democracy at work as like-minded individuals work together to accomplish a common goal.

The "legal" entity is usually a non-profit corporation and one gains ownership in the Co-Op by purchasing a "share" in the corporation at a set price.  But it's not a typical corporation.  In this type of corporation, a non-profit Co-Op corporation, there is one member for one vote - no one gets more votes/influence by purchasing more shares, investing more money, or having more money.

And while a Co-Op can certainly have a profit motive, that's not the underlying reason for its existence.  Most Co-Ops exist to meet the needs of the members.  Now generating profits may be a Co-Op goal to ultimately benefit the members, but Co-Ops don't tend to focus on maximizing profits at the expense of the overall reason the Co-Op exists in the first place.

Since we're talking "big picture" here, I'll post the "Seven Co-Operative Principles" as adopted by the International Co-Operative Alliance in 1995. 

1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.

3. Members' Economic Participation
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.

4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.

6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.


I'm using language from the International Co-Operative Alliance, because they say it better than I can.  Here's their explanation of "core values" of Co-Operatives.

"Co-operatives are enterprises that put people at the center of their business and not capital."

"Co-operatives are business enterprises and thus can be defined in terms of three basic interests: ownership, control, and beneficiary. Only in the co-operative enterprise are all three interests vested directly in the hands of the user."

"Co-operatives put people at the heart of all their business. They follow a broader set of values than those associated purely with making a profit."

"Because co-operatives are owned and democratically-controlled by their members (individuals or groups and even capital enterprises) the decisions taken by co-operatives balance the need for profitability with the needs of their members and the wider interests of the community."


For some, the above may sound too "touchy-feely" or even Anti-capitalistic, but if you look closely, the language consistently refers to Co-Ops as "business enterprises".  It's just that the focus isn't solely on maximizing profits but rather balancing profits with member needs.  In fact, sometimes several businesses join together to form Co-Ops to better serve them as a whole in order to, ultimately, boost their individual business profits.

Also, Co-Ops require active participation of all members.  While everyone has an equal voice, no one gets a free ride.  The privilege of being a part of a Co-Op comes with a commitment to be involved.

Co-Ops attempt to combine the best of for-profit companies with the best of democratic government for the overall good of like-minded, active members.  Co-Ops really are a concept most Americans can get behind with their self-supporting, democratic, mission-driven, community values.

Now, of course, in addition to the positive qualities above, there are some potential negative aspects of Co-Ops as well.

Here is a list of Pros & Cons from the Cooperative Development Institute.

Some Pros and Cons of Forming a Cooperative

Four Reasons Why You Might Want to Start A Co-op: 

  • 1. Cooperatives exist to meet their member's needs. Their focus is on service to members not on bringing a return to their investors.
  • 2. Cooperative members are not penalized for working together in a cooperative business under US Tax Code, therefore many cooperatives enjoy tax advantages.
  • 3. Cooperatives are owned and controlled by their members. They help keep resources in the members' community and are guided by the members' values. Decisions made democratically by the membership provide a strong direction that is supported across the organization.
  • 4. Profits are returned to members so members benefit from the business they do with the cooperative.

Four Reasons Why You Might Want to Think Twice Before Starting a Co-op:

  • 1. Sometimes cooperatives have difficulty gaining access to the capital they need without being able to bring on investors who have a seat on the board.
  • 2. Cooperatives need to invest time and money in supporting their democratic process - educating members about key issues, holding meetings, and responding to member concerns. This can be expensive and time consuming.
  • 3. Sometimes there are legal limits to the scope of operations or membership for a cooperative.
  • 4. Cooperatives are only as good as their members ask them to be. When members stop investing time and energy, cooperatives can reduce the benefits they provide to their members. 


Of the list of "Cons", certainly gaining access to capital in the formation stage is a hurdle.  But the most important "Con" is the last one.  If the members don't get involved and stay involved, original goals aren't met and the Co-Op can ultimately fail.  Continuing education of the members, complete support of the democratic process, and transparency in the government of the organization are extremely important.

So, there's an overview of Co-Ops and their concept.  Next, we'll go to the next step and look at "Housing Co-Ops".

Housing Co-Ops 

A "housing" Co-Op has living units which may be houses, apartments, mobile homes, or RV sites.  It may have mixed housing, but in most Co-Ops, the living units are of the same type.

In a "housing' Co-Op, each member pays an upfront designated amount to purchase one share (just like any other Co-Op).  That share gives the member

  1. One equal vote in all member votes (just like any other Co-Op) AND
  2. a right to occupy a particular unit (apartment, house, mobile home, RV site) in the Co-Op for as long as he/she owns the share.

In addition to the upfront purchase of the share, each member contributes to the operation of the Co-Op in the form of a monthly, quarterly, or annual fee.  This fee is the pro-rated cost of all expenses of running the Co-Op including management costs, property taxes, insurance, utilities, trash pick-up, maintenance fees, a reserve fund for capital expenditures, payments on construction loans or mortgages, and more.  These fees can increase over the years, but the goal is to keep those fees at reasonable levels so that increases do not create an excessive burden on the members.

Another cost, or potential cost, are "assessments".  If the members/owners, by majority vote decide, to add a new amenity to the Co-Op (such as a clubhouse, or pool, or tennis court, etc.) or there is a need for a large piece of equipment or the need for a high cost improvement, the members/owners may be assessed an extra fee to cover costs above and beyond the normal operating costs.  All the owners, whether they voted for the assessment or not, are required to pay the assessment or risk losing their membership.

Because the people living in the Co-Op are responsible for running it and there is no profit-maximization motive, the overall cost to live in a Co-Op is often less expensive than similar developments in the same area.  The members use their time and skills to perform most of the functions of the Co-Op, so costs are reduced by not having to contract out services or pay the high costs of having employees.  The Co-Op may hire employees, but the members typically try to keep the numbers to an absolute minimum.

The member/owners elect a Board of Directors that acts as the "government" of the Co-Op (just like any other Co-Op).  The Board makes decisions and ensures that the By-Laws of the Co-Op are being followed.

The member/owners of Co-Ops have a significant interest in making sure that it is managed in a certain way that is agreeable and beneficial to the members as a whole.  The By-Laws that are established in the beginning, and modified on occasion by vote, assist in making sure like-minded individuals live in a community that remains enjoyable for everyone for the long-term.  Rules can be numerous and strictly enforced so that the mission of the Co-Op is achieved.

Though Co-Ops have the same overall goals and basic structure, the By-Laws can make similar Co-Ops very different in the management.

Some Co-Ops are "market value" Co-Ops in which any member/owner may sell their share for any price they can get for it.  However, the By-Laws may provide for certain requirements of new members which may reduce the total pool of potential buyers, and thus market value.

Some Co-Ops are "limited equity" Co-Ops in which members/owners can only sell their shares back to the Co-Op or sell for a specified price.  Often, in "limited equity" Co-Ops, the member/owner is guaranteed a return of the original share purchase price, but the member/owner does not get the benefit of any appreciation or increase in the value of the share.

Pros & Cons of Housing Co-Ops


  • Affordability
  • Shared Expenses
  • Equal Voice in community
  • Co-Op handles maintenance
  • If you leave, you get back your original investment (and possibly a profit)
  • A place to live as long as you own a share (unless the membership decides to dissolve the Co-Op, you are terminated due to rules violations or non-payment of fees, or your health requires moving and the sale of your share)


  • May not get the benefit of equity/appreciation
  • Cannot make modifications/improvements without Board approval
  • Lots of rules/restrictions
  • Required fees/assessments may exceed your financial ability (especially if on a fixed income)
  • Restrictions on the sale of your share
  • Shares are often not transferable to family members (without Board approval) or cannot be transferred at death through the member's estate
  • Requirements to actively participate in the operation of the Co-Op 

Ultimately, a Co-Op is an affordable housing alternative and that affordability comes with less personal autonomy and less ability to benefit from market equity increases.  But the member gets the benefits of a like-minded community with similar values that is not subject to the whims of landlords and profit-driven investors and property/business owners. 

Now, let's get a little more specific and talk about RV parks as a subset of "housing Co-Ops".

RV Park Co-Ops

In an RV park Co-Op, each member/owner is entitled to the use of one RV site for as long as he/she owns the share.  The member/owner does not "own" the RV site, but only the right to occupy it.  All of the park real estate, including the individual RV sites, is owned by the Co-Op which is, in turn, owned jointly by all of the member/owners.

The member/owner has no authority to make modifications or improvements to the site unless they are approved according to procedures contained in the By-Laws.

The RV itself is the only tangible property owned and controlled by the individual.  However, there still may be restrictions as to the type, size, age, appearance, etc. of the RV.  Co-Op By-Laws may require appearance standards and failure to comply with those standards can lead to termination of the membership and eviction with return of the share purchase price.

However, the RV owner may sell the RV itself without restriction.  Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that the buyer of the RV will also be able to purchase your share (right to use your RV site).  The buyer of the RV may only be entitled to the RV and may have to remove it from Co-Op property.  Everything depends on the Co-Ops By-Laws.

In my research, I've discovered many RV parks that are Co-Ops.

The Escapees RV Club was instrumental in starting eleven Co-Op parks across the country from the early 1980s to the early 1990s.  All of those parks are still in existence and are successful models of RV Park Co-Ops.  They have many similarities in their structures and By-Laws, but they also have differences that make each one unique.

Note:  The base share cost for the eleven Escapees Co-Ops ranges from less than $3,000 to over $30,000.  However, in some of the Co-Ops, when RV sites become available, the share owners are also entitled to recover their documented, Board-approved site improvement costs which can add up to thousands of additional dollars.  

It was the Escapees Co-Op parks (we've stayed at four of the eleven) that introduced us to the concept of Co-Ops.  We liked the structure and the spirit of cooperation in the self-governing of a lifestyle enjoyed by the member/owners.  And we were attracted by the reasonableness of the costs of living in the communities. 

However, many Escapees-supported Co-Ops attempted during that time never came to fruition because 1) they couldn't find land, 2) chosen land purchases fell through, 3) members couldn't come to an agreement on location, 4) they couldn't get enough members to "invest" or commit to the project, 5) there were issues with zoning, 6) there were issues in feasibility studies that couldn't be overcome, and 7) influential members didn't adhere to the democratic nature of the Co-Op's mission.

Due to problems that arose and legal issues, the Escapees founders determined that it was wise to not be a part of any additional Co-Ops, so they stopped encouraging/supporting the start-ups in the early 1990s.

Other than the Escapees parks, there aren't many RV park Co-Ops that started from scratch.  Most of the RV Park or Mobile Home Park Co-Ops I've looked at were private, for-profit developments that were eventually converted to Co-Ops by those living in the communities.  Perhaps the communities weren't doing well financially, or perhaps the developers weren't meeting the needs of the owners, or perhaps the owners just wanted to take control of their futures.

There are certainly excellent reasons to be a part of an RV Park Co-Op, not the least of which is member/owner control of their "RV living" future and, especially, the control of the costs of that future.

However, RV-Park Co-Ops come with their own set of problems.

The very nature of the self-government and democratic process means that members/owners are not always going to be happy with votes.

There is the risk that not all the members/owners will participate in the government, management, and day-to-day operations leaving most of the work to the diligent few ... and this can lead to resentment or, perhaps worse, too much control in the hands of a few.

In addition, the necessity of strict enforcement of rules can create uncomfortable situations.  There are times when friends must be "called out" by friends in order to retain the standard of living envisioned by the group.

One of the huge downfalls of "for profit" private RV parks across the country is the failure to enforce the rules they have established.  The need of a consistent income stream and not wanting to upset anyone often results in deterioration of the park, unfair or random enforcement of rules, loss of control, and loss of long-term financial viability.  Often, nice RV parks turn into dilapidated homesteads that vacationing RVers find unattractive at best and repulsive at worst.

Co-Ops tend to enforce the rules more stringently against individuals for the sake of the community in the long-term.  Often, rental of sites of the member/owners to vacationing RVers is a significant source of income that can be used to offset Co-Op expenses, so the Co-Op wants to keep the park pleasant and appealing for it's member/owners and traveling guests.  It's very important that RV Park Co-Op members understand the rules and restrictions in the By-Laws and understand the consequences of violating those rules.

Also, well-written By-Laws will have a "grievance procedure" if the member feels the rules have been enforced unfairly.

Dealing with rules violations and grievances can be one of the more unattractive aspects of Co-Ops, but educating members, setting expectations, and consistent enforcement of the rules makes it easier and better for everyone.

RV Park Co-Ops aren't perfect, but well-run parks can have far many more positives than negatives. 


55 & Over

Most RVers have noticed that there are hundreds of RV parks (and retirement communities) across the country advertised as "55 & Over" parks.  This really has nothing to do with whether an RV park is a Co-Op or not, but it is important in the discussion.

Under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and subsequent amendments the following is the law. 

What Is Prohibited?

In the Sale and Rental of Housing: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.


In that law, since the 1988 amendments, is an exemption.  For housing for those 55 years of age and older, "familial status" is not a protected class.  In the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA) requirements to get the exemption were relaxed.

A community can claim to be a "55 & Over" community if:

  1. All of its residents are age 62 and over OR 80% of the occupied living units are occupied by at least one person that is 55 or over (the 80/20 Rule), AND
  2. The community must have published policies and procedures (and follow those polices and procedures) to prove "intent" that it is to be housing for people 55 & Over

What does this mean?  Well, it means that "55 & Over" communities can legally exclude families with children under 18 (and even pregnant women).  In fact, the "55 & Over" community can go far beyond that as long as it meets the two requirements above.

For example, the community can completely exclude people of any age below 55 from buying or renting property.  The 80/20 rule is a minimum standard to be called "55 & Over", but the communities are certainly not required to reserve 20 percent of their housing for families with children or those under 55.  As long as the minimum standard is met, they can restrict 100% of the housing.  For example, some communities have 20% of their housing available to those under 55, but they still exclude families with children and require the 20% be occupied by people over 40.  Many other scenarios are out there as well. 

Seniors and senior housing developers argued that seniors should be able to live in communities with mostly other seniors and have amenities specifically geared to their needs and wants.  Congress agreed.

Certainly, there is demand for "55 & Over" housing, but whether it is due to seniors wanting to live in places built specifically for their needs, or whether it is due to the ability to keep out kids, or a combination of both, is debatable.

Many seniors enjoy communities, and RV parks, that are built with them in mind and that exclude children from being "permanent" residents.  My goal is not to get into a public policy debate, but rather just to clarify what the "55 & Over" communities are and dispel a couple of myths.

We get emails all of the time asking about "55 & Over" RV parks/communities.  Does that mean that a 50 year old couple can't go there?  Or a 35 year old couple?  Does that mean that a grandparent can't take their grandchildren there?  Does that mean families are completely unwelcome?

Basically, the "55 & Over" designation gives the park the legal ability to exclude families with children or to limit them.  However, that does not necessarily mean that a family with children can't stay there.  In some cases the park might be a strict 100% "55 & Over" park, but usually the parks use the 80/20 rule to allow non-seniors and families to stay in the parks.  It's worth a phone call to find out.

Also, sometimes it's not the people living in the park that want it to be designated as "55 & Over".  What I've learned in my research is that it is sometimes easier for developers to get zoning from the state, county, or city IF it is a "senior" development.  Municipalities have discovered that "senior" communities provide excellent tax revenue without requiring additional expenditures from their school budgets or expenditures for other services required by families with children.

A high percentage of RV Park Co-Ops are "55 & Older".  Just verify if that is something that is attractive to you, offensive to you, or okay with you once you know the actual restrictions.



Well, I hope the above provides a decent explanation about Co-Ops in general, their pros and cons, and how RV Park Co-Ops are different from privately owned, for-profit RV parks.

Personally, I love the Co-Op concept.  But it is the execution and member involvement that makes the concept work.  And the converse is true - uninvolved members and lackluster management by the Board can result in disappointment and the failure of the Co-Op's mission.