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A common area is an area of real estate that is not owned by any one person, but serves a common, useful purpose for a group of owners or residents. It is most commonly associated with hotels, apartment buildings and condominium complexes. It may also apply to neighborhoods that have home owner's associations that keep up certain areas for the enjoyment of residents. Though the laws pertaining to a common area may differ somewhat by jurisdiction, it is generally up to the underlying owner of the property to maintain.
In most cases, an individual owner, association or trust is responsible for keeping up a common area. The area must be kept in usable condition and made reasonably safe. This may mean providing adequate lighting, drainage and even snow and ice removal, if that is a problem in the area. Thus, the need to maintain these areas may also require an additional fee or assessment to be placed on those who are living in nearby units. Condominiums and neighborhoods often impose association fees to help pay for this maintenance.
As a common area is used by more than one party or family, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in most cases. Therefore, law enforcement may not need a search warrant to access those areas if they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and evidence may be present in such an area. Though this may differ slightly from country to country, individuals should be aware they may not have the same rights in a common area that they would have in a private residence.
Any number of areas could be considered a common area. Hallways, lobbies, pools, and parking lots along with any other outside area, would likely be considered common locations. Of course, this only applies to residential structures such as condominiums, apartments and hotels. If you live in a single-family residence located in a neighborhood with common areas, you still have rights over your own property, both inside and outside.
If you believe a common area is not being kept up to certain reasonable standards, then you have a number of different options. If there is an individual owner, you may try approaching him or her. If it is an association or trust, you may be able to put pressure on the board of trustees or directors to provide better service. In some cases, you may even be able to take legal action to ensure the area remains safe and usable, especially if there is a contract addressing those issues.