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Common areas in strata schemes – who maintains them?

What makes up a strata property’s common areas?

Almost all strata properties can be divided into two parts: the private areas within individual owners' lots, and the common areas, being everything that's outside the private domain of lot owners. Obvious common areas include shared lobbies, gardens, stairwells etc., but they also include roofs and guttering, utility hubs, the building fabric itself and much more.

Across the wide variety of strata properties, almost all have similar basic common areas including:

  • The building itself
  • External walls, windows and doors
  • Stairs, stairwells and balustrades
  • Shared balconies
  • Driveways
  • On-site car parking
  • Shared gardens
  • Letterbox structures
  • Roof, guttering and downpipes
  • Sewer connections
  • Water and gas meter hubs
  • Utility connections to the building
  • Boundary fences

Naturally, the size and amenities of a strata property will determine the types of common areas. In addition to the above list, common areas in large apartment complexes can also include:

  • Lobbies, entrances and concierge desks
  • Resident lounges and libraries
  • Corridors
  • Residents’ and service lifts
  • Barbecue areas, shared tv rooms and entertainment spaces
  • Building manager’s office
  • Storerooms
  • Pools, gyms, saunas, spas and changerooms
  • Visitor and employee washrooms and toilets
  • Employee staff rooms and kitchens
  • Residents’ shared laundries, washing machines and dryers
  • Electrical switchboards and sub-stations
  • Fire-fighting pumps and hoses
  • Fire exits
  • Rubbish chutes, bins and bin rooms
  • Shared garages and basement car parks
  • Storage cages and units in shared areas
  • Water pumps, rainwater tanks and stormwater connections

Who is responsible for common areas?

Except in specific circumstances (see below) the body corporate is responsible1 not only for maintaining and repairing common areas, but also taking out adequate residential strata insurance to cover damage to common areas, as well as insurance against claims for personal injury or damage to personal property while on or using a property’s common areas.

What about ‘exclusive use’ of common property?

Exclusive use areas are parts of a strata property that seem to be common areas, but are actually reserved for exclusive use by one or a small set of residents, and they're more common than you might think. Often, they're courtyards or gardens accessible from one residence, designated parking spots, and of course…storage cages.

These areas can be defined when the property is set up or established through a by-law of the body corporate2.

But who is responsible for the maintenance of exclusive use common areas? In most jurisdictions, unless the by-laws specifically state otherwise, the owner who has received the exclusive right is responsible for maintaining the exclusive use area3. This can extend to the insurance covering the particular piece of property.

In some cases, such as designated car parking spaces the overall responsibility still remains with the body corporate or is shared between the resident and the body corporate.

Is an apartment balcony considered a common area?

It depends on the balcony. If it’s an access balcony shared by a number of units, then it’s common property. If it’s a private balcony, accessed from only one apartment, then it is technically common property, but also regarded as an exclusive use zone, and so responsibility can be shared.

For example, if there's damage to the tiles or someone injures themselves while on the balcony, this can be the responsibility of the owner, and the body corporate's strata insurance may not cover this. However, if the balcony is unstable, the balustrades are defective, there are leaks in the waterproof membrane, or any other structural issues; these are usually the responsibility of the body corporate4.

Whenever a problem arises, or there is confusion about where responsibilities start and finish, it's always wise to first chat with the strata committee, building or strata manager.