Imagine a scenario when a member is having some challenges, which come with either age or declining mental conditions to the extent they may be a threat to themselves or the community. What does the Cooperative do? Do they have any obligation? What if the member’s family calls demanding you to take action such as turning off their water or their gas for fear the member might not remember to turn it off?
Well these are all loaded questions and probably not as simple as it may seem. Foremost, the Board must protect its members and the property of the corporation. If the Cooperative has a reasonable basis to believe the member is a threat to the community, they will need to take further action including but not limited to terminating the member’s tenancy due to the threat to the community and cooperative property. The family will not want that for many reasons, even if it ultimately it may be best to get the ailing member the help they need in an appropriate living arrangement. It is unfortunately all too common for families to “dump“ their family members on the Cooperative and expect them to take care of their ailing family member, which is shameful when it happens. We have seen instances when some member’s unit conditions have deteriorated beyond repair, some living in urine/feces laden garments, and even one where their mental faculties were so compromised they were actually grilling in their units. We aren’t talking a George Foreman, friends. We are talking charcoal BBQ on the first floor of a multi-unit building. The family refused to take action and instead claimed the cooperative was discriminating against her disability. Crazy, huh? This is an extreme example, but it hits home the point being made here. Some family members would rather bury their head in the sand and have someone else take care of their problem, without the extensive costs of assisted living. That’s not what the cooperative is around to do.
Get someone involved with the member’s well-being as their highest priority. Family can arrange for various service available through the state or county. Some of these services will do daily or weekly wellness checks and will even initiate Guardianship proceedings if necessary and appropriate. Just last week, my office discussed with one of the state organizations about a member risk to them self. Their assessment was much less about than the family’s assessment. Had the Board taken action as requested by the family, with no court order, they could have found themselves in hot water. No pun.
However, to answer the original question above about turning off water or gas, the cooperative should not shut off amenities because a concerned family member calls and says that would the safest thing to do for the member. The family still has to follow protocol and get authority to speak on behalf of the member. It likely will come down to hard questions like: can this member take care of them self, or do they need housing more suited to their needs. How is that family member qualified to make that determination absent a finding by a court of jurisdiction? Often, the agencies available to the member can make those assessments and put the ailing members interest above all else. Consult with your cooperative attorney, or you could get your lights turned out.