The Sustainable Economies Law Center does innovative legal research into emerging legal gray areas and advocates for new laws that create a clear legal space for small-scale, democratic, and sustainable practices.
Five Legal Resource Libraries, So Little Time
Did you know that the Law Center has five free online legal resource libraries? Each eResource library is stocked with legal guidelines, FAQs, and templates to help navigate complex regulatory landscapes for urban farming, cooperatives, small and community-owned enterprise, community currencies, and food and farming enterprises.
Browse the digital stacks of our online Law Libraries
This Guide discusses options for obtaining funds for farm enterprises in California through methods other than bank and institutional loans. With growing consumer interest in local sources of food, there are increasing opportunities for farmers to include their customers, friends, family, neighbors, and other community members in the farm enterprise as investors. Receiving investment dollars from community members instead of larger institutions may also be more feasible for many beginning farmers, since banks and other institutions generally only lend to well established businesses with steady revenues.
However, numerous state and federal laws apply to soliciting investments from individuals and organizations, which this Guide will explain in detail. These laws are collectively known as securities law and they are primarily designed to protect investors from entering into fraudulent or overly risky investment deals. Before asking anyone for money, farmers should be aware of the basic of securities law.
Released in September, 2017
Written by Christina Oatfield, Policy Director for the Sustainable Economies Law Center. This guide was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grant of the USDA-NIFA program titled, Growing Roots: Deepening Support for Diverse New Farmers and Ranchers in California, Grant # 2015-70017-22868.
By Sustainable Economies Law Center Staff Attorney, Cameron Rhudy
It’s Here, it’s Here, it’s Finally Here! Our Guide to Starting a Legal Cafe
Over the years we have received many inquiries from attorneys who want to start legal clinics in their community that resemble our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe. In response, we have created our Practical Guide to Starting a Legal Cafe, a comprehensive guide for how to do just that. In the guide you will learn how to get the basics of your Legal Cafe in place and how to create that unique Legal Cafe experience. The guide also includes sample intake documents and a breakdown of tasks for scheduling and planning your Legal Cafe.Read more
Host your own "Learning to Think Outside the Boss" workshop!
Thank you for your interest in hosting"Learning to Think Outside the Boss: An Introductory Workshop on the Legal Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Worker Cooperative!" Below, find resources we've created to teach about how the law works in, against, and for worker cooperatives. This is a shorter, participatory, discussion-orientated version of our half day "Think Outside the Boss" workshop.
NOTE: These materials are updated at irregular intervals and might change from time to time. Updates are based on feedback from participants and those who facilitate the "Learning to Think Outside the Boss" workshop. Please send questions, feedback, or comments about this guide to [email protected].
What is it?
This workshop provides an introduction to the practical steps individuals and groups need to take to establish, build, and successfully manage a cooperative enterprise. This introductory workshop attempts to bring forward basic legal and structural questions such as what is a cooperative, what is a legal entity, what rules govern fundraising and financing for cooperatives, and more. This workshop provides an overview of the content contained in Sustainable Economies Law Center's Think Outside the Boss: How to Create a Worker-Owned Business manual.
Why Do it?
This workshop is meant to provide an introduction for those looking to support cooperative development and for entrepreneurs and activists seeking to build a worker cooperative. By the end of the workshop, participants should be able to
- have a basic understanding of the cooperative form from a functional and principled perspective,
- understand the Cooperative Principles in practice,
- distinguish cooperatives from other business forms,
- distinguish between the different kinds of cooperatives,
- understand basic questions that should be asked when founding a worker cooperative,
- and think about cooperatives as they relate to the needs in their lives.
Facilitators should use a combination of lecture (minimal), experiential learning, and popular education techniques to engage the group actively in the process of learning about worker cooperatives and cooperative business development.
Beginning in 2013, SELC and the East Bay Community Law Center have been hosting half day workshops called "Think Outside the Boss" three times per year in the San Francisco Bay Area. These Think Outside the Boss workshops provide community members an introduction into the nuts and bolts of starting and running a cooperatively owned business. We go over legal issues in an accessible way to help you understand the relationships between cooperatives, employment, and community wealth-building. Attorneys, law students, and experienced cooperative professionals give short presentations on legal issues, governance structures, financing, and more. We also typically host breakout sessions on specialized topics with attorneys, cooperative accountants, business planning specialists, and discussions led by cooperative worker-members. To find the next Think Outside the Boss workshop, please visit theselc.org/events.
This facilitator’s guide was originally prepared for the 2014 JACKSON RISING: NEW ECONOMIES CONFERENCE in Jackson, Mississippi. Their clarion call to build a broad based solidarity economy in the southern US led us to deepen our intention of making legal education accessible to those building economic democracy all around the country. With feedback from the worker cooperative community, allies, and others who use our resources, we have attempted to refine this facilitator’s guide in order to increase its usefulness to the movement. We hope this guide can introduce cooperative entrepreneurs, practitioners, and cooperative developers to the basic legal concepts when starting and operating a worker-owned cooperative.
THIS GUIDE WAS PREPARED FOR A 2016 WORKSHOP ON STARTING A WORKER-OWNED BUSINESS. THE CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE AND ACCOMPANYING THINK OUTSIDE THE BOSS MANUAL SHOULD NOT BE RELIED ON AS LEGAL ADVICE.
ALSO, SOME OF THIS INFORMATION COULD BECOME OUTDATED, AND LAWS VARY FROM PLACE-TO-PLACE. FURTHERMORE, ALTHOUGH WE TRIED TO COLLECT ACCURATE INFORMATION AND GIVE THE LAWS OUR BEST INTERPRETATION, SOME INFORMATION IN THIS GUIDE AND ACCOMPANYING MANUAL COULD EVEN TURN OUT TO BE INCORRECT OR SUBJECT TO OTHER INTERPRETATIONS BY COURTS OR REGULATORS! WE SURE HOPE THAT’S NOT THE CASE, BUT, WHAT CAN WE SAY? LAW IS COMPLICATED STUFF! THAT'S WHY WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY BEFORE USING THIS INFORMATION TO FORM OR OPERATE A COOPERATIVE.
We conduct legal research on land and housing issues and publish easy-to-read legal information on our online legal resource library - CommunityHousingLaw.org. This website is still a work in progress, so stay tuned for more information on starting housing cooperatives, community land trusts, and other forms of shared, cooperative, and equitable housing!
In partnership with the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network, the Law Center is piloting a new model of collective land ownership that mobilizes community capital to preserve affordable and democratically controlled housing and commercial spaces. Read more about this model on our PREC Pilot Project page, or visit EBPREC’s website.
In this video, the Northern California Land Trust, Oakland Community Land Trust, and the Law Center cover the legal nuts and bolts of permanently affordable/shared equity housing, including different legal models and funding mechanisms to remove housing from the speculative market.
Elders deserve to live with housing security in a community of their choosing and retain self-determination for as long as possible. The Sustainable Economies Law Center is increasing its legal support for cooperatively-owned, resident-controlled housing options for seniors. That's why we've brought on a Borchard Fellow for Law & Aging, Julie Gilgoff, to help realize this vision. To find out more, please visit our Aging Cooperatively webpage.
The Resilient Communities Legal Cafe provides direct legal advice, workshops, teach-ins, discussions, and legal services supporting the creation of:
Find the dates and locations for each Legal Cafe on our Legal Cafe events calendar.
Our Teach-ins provide practical, participatory, and action oriented discussions around food, housing, livelihoods, transportation, and more! Many of our most popular teach-ins focus on housing co-ownership, innovative ways of financing land and housing, and more. Check our events calendar for upcoming events and teach-ins!
Past Teach-ins have included:
- The Gritty, Moral Solution to the Housing Crisis with David Giesen
Legalizing Tiny Homes: The Ten-Year Plan
Chapter 9 of the Law Center’s book, Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, focuses on legal tools for the creation of more economically sustainable housing models.
The Law Center is creating detailed legal case studies of communities and housing solutions that emphasize sharing, affordability, and sustainability. This work looks particularly at models of shared housing, including cohousing communities, ecovillages, and housing cooperatives. The legal case studies are designed to allow other groups to replicate existing housing models. Click here for one legal case study by the Sustainable Economies Law Center.
Mapping the Regulatory Terrain
Developing a community energy project turns out to be quite the puzzle because our current legal system favors centralized and for-profit ownership of energy infrastructure by the wealthiest sectors of society. So we are mapping the legal and regulatory landscape to help communities navigate building community projects.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center's expert panelists discuss the legal barriers, policy opportunities, and steps to creating a new energy future. Click here to watch the webinar.
Subin Varghese, Director of Community Renewable Energy, explains how Sustainable Economies Law Center is piecing together the puzzle of community ownership in the energy sector.
Read more here.
Policies for Shareable Cities is the first policy handbook of its kind. It includes 32 recommended policies that enable cities to benefit from the sharing economy in the priority areas of food, jobs, housing, and transportation. Click here to read or download the brief.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center's (SELC) free, comprehensive online legal resource library for urban agriculture. Key topics:
Planning & Zoning Soil
Animals and Livestock Employment Law
Food, Ag, and Health Regulations Water
Liability, Risk, and Insurance For-Profit Urban Ag
Land Access Building Codes
Homeowners Associations Non-Profit Urban Ag
Many thanks to the our volunteer researchers and volunteer research attorneys who contributed to this free online resource for urban farmers. View the eResource at UrbanAgLaw.org.
Click here to view or download the powerpoint presentation by East Bay Cohousing's Betsy Morris.
Community renewable energy is clean, small-scale, and owned or sponsored by communities. That's why it creates democratic, resilient energy grids with distributed economic benefits. SELC’s expert panelists discuss the legal barriers, policy opportunities, and steps to creating a new energy future. Click here to watch the webinar.
Legal Resource Library: CommunityCurrenciesLaw.org is Sustainable Economies Law Center's legal resource library on barter, time banks, and local currencies. It is a place to collaborate and share legal research and practical information related to these topics.
Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, Chapter 5, New Kinds of Exchange, by Janelle Orsi
Legal Services: Beginning in 2013, SELC will offer limited legal advice and services to time banks, local currencies, and barter groups around the United States. For projects located in the SF Bay Area, visit our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe for in-person legal services!
Workshops: SELC has developed several workshops on the legalities of barter, time banks, and local currencies for legal professionals and community members. These workshops will be offered as webinars in 2014, so check our events page for upcoming learning opportunities. We also host frequent community teach-ins and conversations on various aspects of the local economies movement - visit our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe calendar for more information.
Legal Basics for Time Banks and Barter Exchanges
Legal Basics for Complementary Currencies (part 1)
Legal Basics for Complementary Currencies (part 2)
Governance is Life: Organizational Governance for the Next Economy
Guides and Toolkits
Disclaimer: The contents of these manuals should not be relied on as legal advice. Also, some of this information could become outdated, and laws vary from place-to-place. Furthermore, although we tried to collect accurate information and give laws our best interpretation, some information in these booklets could even turn out to be incorrect or subject to other interpretations by courts or regulators! We sure hope that's not the case, but what can we say? Law is complicated stuff! That's why we strongly recommend that you consult an attorney before using this information.
Legal Guides for Worker Cooperatives
2021 California Worker Cooperative Law Practice Guide: For Lawyers Advising Worker Cooperative Corporations
By Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from authors Alex Glancy, Allison Curtis, Brett Heeger, Hasmik Geghamyan, Jennie Msall, Jonathan Ward, Kelsey Jae, Kim Arnone, Neil Aaron Helfman, Sam Gray, Sarah Kaplan, and Van Baldwin
Create Your Co-op's Employee/ Member Handbook: A tool for worker-owned cooperatives in California.
Think Outside The Boss: How to Create a Worker-Owned Business
By East Bay Community Law Center, Green Collar Communities Clinic, Sustainable Economies Law Center
7th Edition; Revised April 2016
Legal Guide to Cooperative Conversions: A Business Owner's Legal Guide to Cooperative Conversion Including Conversion Models, Case Studies, and Sample Documents
By East Bay Community Law Center, Green Collar Communities Clinic, and Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from authors Janelle Orsi, William Lisa, and Sushil Jacob
El Proceso Legal Para Iniciar Tu Negocio Cooperativa: Una Guia para todos tipos de negocios
Creado por: East Bay Community Law Center, Green Collar Communities Clinic, Sustainable Economies Law Center
¿Qué son las cooperativas de trabajadores? Las cooperativas de trabajadores son entidades de negocio que están (1) en posesión de los trabajadores, (2) gobernadas por los trabajadores, y (3) operadas por y para el beneficio de los trabajadores. Puesto que las cooperativas son propiedad y están controladas por y para los empleados que trabajan allá, son operadas diferentemente de las empresas tradicionales en unos aspectos clave.
Legal Guides for Worker Self Directed Nonprofits
Legal Guide for Board of Directors of Worker Self Directed Nonprofits
By Sustainable Economies Law Center
Bylaws Toolkit for Worker Self Directed Nonprofits
By Sustainable Economies Law Center and Harmonize with contributions from the following authors: Chris Tittle and Simon Mont
Released January 2021
Legal Guides for Radical Real Estate and Housing
How to Start a Permanent Real Estate Cooperative
By Sustainable Economies Law Center
Seeds of Land Return
By Sustainable Economies Law Center
Released Dec 2022
SB 1079 Legal Toolkit - Know Your Rights
By Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from the following authors: Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Christine Hernandez, Hope Williams, Alejandra Cruz, and Mwende Hinojosa
Released May 2021
Legal Toolkit for Commercial Tenants | CA Fair and Just Commercial Lease Cartoon Template, explainer videos, and more!
By Sustainable Economies Law Center and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, with contributions from the following authors: Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Tobias Damm-Luhr, Janelle Orsi, and Cunmei Zhang (Cooley)
Released September 2020
Cohousing Legal Toolkit 3.0
By Jill Jacobs
Fundraising and Grassroots Financing
Legal Guides for Food and Farm
California Urban and Agriculture Food Safety Guide: Laws and Standard Operating Procedures for Farming Safely in the City
By Sustainable Economies Law Center, UC Berkeley, and UC Cooperative Extension
By Economies and Entrepreneurship Project, East Bay Community Law Center, Green Collar Communities Clinic, and Sustainable Economies Law Center
Revised March 2016
Selling Produce in Santa Clara County
By Sustainable Economies Law Center
Released Oct 2015
Legal Guide for Mutual Aid Projects
Mutual Aid Legal Toolkit | FAQs from Mutual Aid Organizers
By Sustainable Economies Law Center, with contributions from the following authors: Samuel Karlin, Molly Keller, Janelle Orsi, Tia Katrina Taruc-Myers, Erika Sato, Chris Tittle, and Charlotte Tsui. We are also grateful for the support of the following advisor: Michael Haber, Andrea Tan, and Bruce Wegner.
Released August 2020
Have a legal question but not quite ready to read a full legal guide? These Bite-Sized Legal Guides are a great place to start!
¿Tiene una pregunta legal pero no está listo para leer una guía legal completa? ¡Estas Guías Legales Cortas son lugares excelentes para empezar! Desplácese hasta la parte inferior de la página para obtener recursos en español.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: These Bite-Sized Legal Guides have been prepared by Sustainable Economies Law Center staff and volunteers as handouts for the Resilient Communities Legal Cafe. The contents of the Guides should NOT be relied on as legal advice. Furthermore, some of this information could become outdated, laws may vary from place to place, and although we've tried to collect accurate information and give the laws our best interpretation, some information in these Bite-Sized Legal Guides could be incorrect or subject to different interpretations by courts and regulators. We hope that's not the case, but, what can we say? Law is complicated stuff! That's why we STRONGLY recommend that you consult with an attorney before using this information.
⭐ How to Choose an Entity for Your Cooperative: This bite-sized legal guide will help you choose between filing as an LLC or as a Cooperative Corporation
⭐ How to Form a Cooperative Corporation: This bite-sized legal guide provides a step-by-step guide to forming a California Cooperative Corporation.
⭐ How to Finance a Worker Cooperative: Explore ways for worker-coops to obtain financing through internal equity, loans, government loans, & outside equity.
⭐ How to Make Decisions in a Cooperative: Explore the different ways coops navigate making decisions in a democratic workplace.
⭐ How to File Taxes as a Subchapter T Cooperative: Explore how cooperatives can avoid the double tax by deducting patronage dividends.
⭐ How to Convert Your Existing Business Into a Cooperative: Explore the significant potential advantages of converting traditional capitalist ownership structures into worker cooperatives.
⭐ How to Become a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit: Explore the legal considerations for becoming a worker self-directed nonprofit.
⭐ How to Form a Nonprofit Organization: Learn the steps to forming a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
⭐ How to Receive Grants and Donations Through Fiscal Sponsor: Explore the pros and cons of finding a fiscal sponsor vs. forming a 501c3.
⭐ 10 Things to Consider When Starting a Fiscally Sponsored Project with a Partner: Here's the skeleton to your future "Co-Director Agreement."
⭐ How to Exit a Fiscal Sponsorship: An outline of steps that a fiscally sponsored project will typically undergo to become an independent nonprofit corporation.
⭐ How to Be an Unincorporated Association: Here, we explain what an unincorporated association is and outline the steps to operate as a nonprofit unincorporated association.
⭐ How to Navigate Conflicts of Interest in Your Nonprofit: Here, we explore how nonprofit corporations or associations can design a conflict of interest policy to meet their needs and comply with the law.
⭐ How to Apply the Public Support Test for Your Tax-Exempt Organization: Here, we explore the difference between a public charity and a private foundation and how to apply the IRS's public support test.
⭐ How to Pay Your Board of Directors: Here, we explain how nonprofit public benefit corporations can pay their board of directors.
land return & housing justice
⭐ How to Get Property Tax Welfare Exemption: The welfare exemption is a property tax exemption for certain properties owned by nonprofits.
⭐ How to Choose Between a Cooperative and a Nonprofit for your Radical Real Estate Project: There are certain benefits to using the nonprofit entity form and other benefits to using the cooperative entity form. Click here to learn more!
⭐ How to Transfer Real Estate Without Professionals: People in California, you can transfer title to a property without a real estate agent, title, or escrow company.
⭐ Resources for Radical Home Sellers: The system makes it difficult to remove your home from the speculative market. Here are some resources to begin your long journey.
food and farming
⭐ In How to Start a Homemade Food Business, we explore the California homemade food law and provide guidelines for starting a homemade food business.
⭐ In How to Become a Personal Chef in California, we explore the certifications and permits you'll need to become a personal chef in California.
⭐ In How to Create an Accessible Urban Garden, we explore methods for increasing access to urban farms.
⭐ In How to Operate a Pushcart, we explore how to operate a pushcart under Oakland's pilot mobile vending program.
⭐ In How to Sell Eggs, we explore the rules for small-scale egg production and sale in California.
⭐ In How to Sell Produce From Your Small Farm, Community Garden, or Backyard, we explore rules for selling urban grown produce & foraged food.
⭐ In How to Become an Organic Producer, we explore the legal definition and requirements for "organic," who can (and must) be certified organic, how you can become a certified organic producer in California, and how to label organic products.
⭐ In How to Navigate Employment Law for Food Enterprises, we explore the definitions, rights, and responsibilities of volunteers, employees, independent contractors, and employers.
⭐ In How to Comply with AB5 (RE Independent Contrators), we help you comply with California's new employment law AB5. Learn what makes a new hire an independent contractor or an employee.
⭐ In Having Employees, we list some of the basic things you need to do and know to get set up as an employer.
⭐ In Who is Not an Employee, we explain the difference between unpaid interns, partners/owners, independent contractors, and volunteers.
⭐ In this How to Deal with Employment Law in Worker Cooperatives, we help you figure out what to do if cooperative members need to be treated as employees under the law.
⭐ In How to Deal with Workers' Compensation Insurance, we discuss cost, exemptions, brokers, and more!
⭐ In this How to Know Who is a Volunteer (Not an Employee) we cover federal and California law on how to mitigate the risk that nonprofit volunteers will be seen as employees.
⭐ In How to Navigate Employment Law for Caregivers, we provide an analysis of both federal and state employment laws, and how they might impact caregiving registries.
⭐ In How to Incorporate as an LLC or Partnership, we explore some steps to establish limited liability entities.
⭐ In How to File Doing Business As ("DBA"), we explain the purpose of a DBA and link to resources that provide a step-by-step guide of how to file.
⭐ In How to Establish a Self-Directed IRA and Solo 401(k), we explore how to pull your retirement savings out of Wall Street and invest it in things that enrich your local community.
⭐ In How to Navigate Trademark Law, we explore the basics of trademark law, including trademark registration, eligibility for trademark protection, trademark infringement, and more.
⭐ In How to Raise Capital, we explore the common exemptions to federal and state securities law that can be used when raising capital for your enterprise.
⭐ In this Bite-Sized Legal Guide, we explore how to run a cooperative child care arrangement in California.
⭐ General business license requirements vary from city to city. In Business Licenses for Gig Workers, we answer questions specific to Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Richmond.
⭐ In How to Work With Lawyers, we explore some things to consider before seeking legal advice.
⭐ In this Bite-Sized Legal Guide, we provide a step by step guide to obtaining a contractors license.
⭐ In California LLC State Taxes & Fees, we define what an LLC is and explain when and how to file taxes & fees as an LLC.
⭐ Who needs a seller's permit? How do you obtain one? Find the answers in this Bite-Sized Legal Guide.
⭐ Comprehensive General Liability Insurance protects orgs from legal liability arising from certain risks when those harmed sue the organization. Click here to learn more!
AVISO LEGAL: Estas Guías Legales Cortas han sido preparadas por personal y voluntarios del Sustainable Economies Law Center como documentos para el Café Legal de Comunidades Resilientes. El contenido de las Guías NO se debe confiar como asesoramiento legal. Además, parte de esta información podría quedar obsoleta, las leyes pueden variar de un lugar a otro, y aunque hemos intentado recopilar información precisa y dar a las leyes nuestra mejor interpretación, parte de la información en estas Guías legales de tamaño reducido podría ser incorrecta o estar sujeta a diferentes interpretaciones de los tribunales y los reguladores. Esperamos que ese no sea el caso, pero, ¿qué podemos decir? ¡La ley es algo complicado! Es por eso que recomendamos encarecidamente que consulte a un abogado antes de utilizar esta información.