Any landlord, owner, or apartment manager should brush up on what exactly counts as a common area. They should also know what responsibilities they have to look after them.

Common Area Law Summarized

  • Common areas belong to all the owners equally, as does the physical and financial responsibility to maintain them.
  • Owners have an irrevocable right to enter a common area during reasonable hours for the purpose of maintenance or repair- as long as any such work adheres to the Apartment Act by-laws.
  • A common area cannot be divided between owners- nobody should have more control over a common area than another.
  • Undivided interest appertaining to a common area can be inherited with the passing along of a lease or deed with all the relevant registration documents.
  • Nobody can change the purpose of a commonly used area without first discussing with the other owners and agreeing on an outcome.
  • If one co-owner fails to pay their share towards the common areas, the others can common collectively open a court case against them.

What Counts as a Common Area?

Essentially, a common area is any part of a building or complex that is not owned by one specific resident. From the front door to the air vents to the parking lot: many different parts of a shared complex are considered common areas.

The following areas fall under the specifications of the Apartment Act and the Real Estate Act as common areas.

Community and Commercial Facilities

Gymnasiums, cafes, shops, kitchen areas, or swimming pools are examples of commercial facilities common areas that the property owner must keep in a respective state. In fully commercial community facilities such as a shopping mall, public toilets and other health facilities are also included.

Entrances, Exits, Fire Escapes, and Stairwells

Even limited common areas such as a doorway or stairwell are protected by the Regulation and Development Act of 2016. Fire escapes and emergency exits are particularly important common areas. They affect not only the integrity of the building but also the safety of its residents.

Common Terraces, Basements, Rooftops, and Open Spaces

Any spaces that are open to all who live in the building or project are common areas. Examples include parking lots, play areas, elevator lobbies, gardens, and common storage spaces.

Staff Lodgings or Workspaces

If an apartment complex has ward staff or security guards, for example, who have a dedicated area inside the property or on the land where they live, eat, or work, it is considered a common area. Additionally, lodging for a property manager or community service personnel (that is provided by the apartment owners) is also a shared space and shared responsibility.

Central Service Installations

Services installed for common use are also considered "common areas," as they are not owned by just one person. Air conditioning, water tanks, electricity, plumbing, water conservation, or renewable energy systems all come under common area case law.

These systems, the apparatus connected to them, and related works to the installation are a collective responsibility.

Any Other Portions of Land or Property with Purpose for Common Use

The entire land area is considered a common area until the completion of the entire real estate project: since there is cause for accessing the full property during that particular phase of the real estate development.

What Responsibilities do Landlords, Apartment Owners, and Property Managers Have in Common Areas?

It is essential as a landlord to understand your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of your tenants. Common areas can make or break a complex, so it is in a manager's interest to look after them efficiently.

Financially wise, it can get complicated when costs arise, which is why it is essential to know the law.

Common Area Maintenance

According to the Apartment Act, the builder is responsible for property maintenance until such a time that an association of allottees comes into play and takes over. Although it falls on all the tenants to keep any common area in good condition, the buck stops with the head of the management structure: be it a landlord, owner, or apartment association.

In a housing development or apartment complex, each individual owner is partly responsible for maintenance charges in the common areas. If the apartment is leased, then the person living there should assume the cost, but an owner cannot charge their tenant differently based on these costs. However, the landlord retains control of the actual maintenance of any common area and the central services.

Commercial property (shopping malls, for example) common area maintenance charges are the sole responsibility of the landlord.

Pest Control Services

One of the main things an apartment owner must do under landlord/tenant law is provide pest control services in the event of a breakout or infestation in any common area.

Organizing Administrative Charges Relating to the Common Area

If more than one person in a cooperative residential facility is responsible for the costs of the common area upkeep, the property manager or whoever is in charge of the overall management structure should organize all the costs and ensure everybody is making payments.

Controlling and Maintaining Common Entrances

The entrances and exits to an apartment building or complex are the most used common areas of them all, with multiple visitors, tenants, owners, and others passing through each day. A landlord or property manager needs to ensure the quality and standard of these areas. Failure to do so can result in complaints, damage, and security troubles.

It also falls to the landlords or property owners to ensure security services (where applicable) are hired and paid. This is particularly important for gated communities or exclusive real estate projects.

Why Common Areas are Important to All the Tenants

Common areas have the power to transform an apartment complex or building. The addition of a park makes a space more enjoyable for young families, in-house launderettes make a difference for those without private facilities, and the entrances set the tone for the whole place.

When a property has good quality common areas, people are interested in living there, meaning landlords and owners can charge a little more rent, within reason.

Final Thoughts

The term "common area" crops up a lot for landlords and building managers, but it can be confusing knowing what that broad term includes. If it is used by all and is for the benefit of all, then it is probably a common area.

Adhering to the terms of apartment law and regulation is the duty of every landlord and owner, and the common areas are just as important as private accommodation.

David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!