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Working together to maintain common areas in your flat

It's important to keep common areas in good repair, this helps prevent the need for large expensive repairs. This page explains what common areas are and looks at how you and your neighbours can work together to maintain common areas of your building.

What are common areas?

If you live in a flat, apartment or tenement, it's likely that you and your neighbours will share certain parts of the building that aren't within the boundaries of your flat. These are known as common areas, or common parts. Some examples include:

  • the roof
  • the stairs, stairwell and common close
  • the lift
  • the fire escape
  • the gutters and downpipes
  • the garden, backyard, close or drying green
  • any private parking areas
  • the entrances and paths leading to the entrances
  • the foundations
  • the external walls.

Who is responsible for maintenance of common areas?

Flat owners are usually jointly responsible for the upkeep of common areas, although this isn't always the case. Some owners may employ a property manager or factor to look after the common areas of their building.

To find out how to work out who is responsible for what, read the page on responsibility for repairs and maintenance in common areas. If you're in any doubt or if the situation isn't clear speak to a solicitor. From 1 October 2012 you'll be able to check the public register of property factors to see if there's a factor registered for your building.

How can I ensure the building is kept in good condition?

Although different owners may be responsible for different parts of the building, it's a good idea to meet your neighbours a few times a year to discuss maintenance of the building. If you have a good relationship with your neighbours, any problems with the common areas are more likely to be identified and sorted out quickly.

Here are some steps to help make sure that your building is kept in good condition:

  • agree a maintenance programme - for example, for cleaning the stairs, mowing the lawn and keeping the garden in good condition, checking the roof, walls and drains, clearing out gutters and touching up any paintwork
  • agree responsibility for maintenance - will you do this work yourselves, or will you pay someone else to do it?
  • hire a property manager or factor  - they can take care of maintenance and repair work
  • agree additional repairs - are any required?
  • work out costs - how much the work will cost? How much you can afford to pay? Who'll be responsible for collecting the money and paying any bills?

The page on keeping your home in good condition lists things to look out for when inspecting your home and drawing up a maintenance plan.

If you're not sure what needs to be done, an architect or surveyor can give you a independent report on the condition of your property, highlighting any areas that may need work. You'll need to pay for this and it could be expensive, so get some quotes beforehand. You can share the costs using the process set out in the tenement management scheme.

How do I set up an owners' meeting?

There are lots of benefits to setting up an owners' meeting and it's not as hard as you might think:

  • first check if there is an owners' group already set up - you can find this out from your neighbours. If your building has a property manager or factor, they may run the group and arrange meetings. If there are no arrangements in place it may be up to you to set up an owners' meeting.
  • write to your neighbours to suggest a meeting - explain that you want to meet to talk about the maintenance of the building. If any of the properties are rented out, the tenants should have contact details for their landlord. If not, you can look them up in the Land Register or in your council's register of private landlords.
  • persuade all the owners to get involved - explain in your letter that routine maintenance makes sure that the building keeps its value, and helps to prevent unexpected and expensive repairs in the future.
  • say how often you want to meet - so the owners know how much time will be involved. For example, meeting could be held fortnightly, monthly or quarterly. You can always arrange more, or fewer, meetings at a later date if necessary.

What should happen at an owners' meeting?

You can arrange to meet in someone's flat, or on 'neutral ground', for example, in a community centre, café or pub. Meetings can be fairly formal, with an agenda and rules, or informal, more like a group chat.

When it comes to making decisions, your title deeds may set out what you should do. For example, your deeds may say that all the owners should vote on decisions, and that at least two-thirds of the owners must agree before you can go ahead. If your deeds don't mention this, or if different owners' deeds contain conflicting information, you should use the decision making process outlined in the tenement management scheme (TMS). This is a legally binding scheme to help owners maintain and repair common areas.

Always make sure that you keep a written record of any decisions made, and that you notify anyone who wasn't able to attend.

How do we pay for maintenance work?

You'll need to arrange a system for paying for joint repair and maintenance work, for example, by setting up a special maintenance account. The page on paying for common repairs has more information on this, and also explains how you can divide up the costs.

What if we want to make improvements to the building?

You and the other owners may wish to carry out improvements to your building. For example, you may want to put in a lift or carpet the hallways.

Your title deeds may specify what you and the other owners need to do in this case. If your title deeds don't mention this, you can't use the majority voting rules in the tenement management scheme (TMS) to make decisions about improvements, because the TMS only covers maintenance and repairs. Instead, you'll only be able to carry out the improvements if all the owners agree. This is to prevent owners from having changes foisted on them that they may not want or can't afford to pay for.

However, if you need to replace existing features with up-to-date materials (for example, if you want to replace lead pipes with plastic ones), this will probably count as maintenance rather than an improvement, so you will be able to use the TMS majority voting rules to get it done.

What is a development management scheme (DMS)?

The DMS is a more formal, detailed scheme than the tenement management scheme. The rules of the scheme don't automatically apply to all developments, they can only be used if the owner (or co-owners) of the land the development is built on has officially registered the scheme in the relevant land register for Scotland.

The Scottish Government has set out some rules that can be used by the scheme. However, the owners of the properties covered by the scheme can change these rules to suit their individual development.

The only rule that can't be changed is that all the owners in the building automatically become members of an owners' association. The owners cannot be held individually responsible for any decisions or actions made by the association. For example, if the association owes money to a tradesperson, the tradesperson cannot ask individual owners to pay it.

Provided most of the owners agree, the scheme can be varied once it is up and running, and it can also be stopped.

What if the property stays in a poor condition?

If your local council is concerned that you're not keeping your home in good repair, they can send you a maintenance order. This is a notice instructing you to draw up a maintenance plan, outlining what you're intending to do over the next five years to keep your property in good condition.

You and the other owners in your building may be required to draw up a joint maintenance plan, to show how you'll manage the upkeep of common areas.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're England

The important points

  • A common area is an area that you share with your neighbour, for example flat owners.
  • Owners are usually jointly responsible for the upkeep of common areas.
  • You may be responsible for the upkeep of different parts of the building, it's a good idea to meet your neighbours a few times a year to discuss maintenance of the building.

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us

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