When it comes to strata building communities in the Australian Capital Territory, what counts as common and what counts as private property?

If you’re renting a property in a strata community or you are an owner-occupier, you will no doubt come across the term ‘common property’.

But what does this mean and how does it affect you? Take a look at the differences between common and private property when it comes to apartment, townhouse and unit blocks.

What is common property

When you live in a strata community, the building you live in sits on a block of land. This block may include one or more separate buildings, landscaped grounds, open or underground parking and dedicated rubbish bin spaces.

These areas are referred to as ‘common property’ and are the spaces all residents (and their guests where applicable) can access freely.

The common property which covers physical areas in a strata community usually includes the following:

  • Entryways and stairwells
  • Swimming pools
  • Gym and workout areas
  • Gardens
  • Pathways
  • Driveways
  • Foyers
  • Tennis courts
  • Playgrounds and bbq areas
  • Outdoor walkways and gazebos
  • Garbage areas
  • Lifts
  • Visitor parking.

There are also assets within the building and grounds which you won’t necessarily pass through, but which are the collective responsibility of the unit owners. For example:

  • The roof
  • The floor/ceiling/slab separating apartments
  • The walls separating apartments
  • Letterboxes
  • Exterior lighting
  • Pipes and electrical work
  • Automatic garage doors
  • Alarm and security systems.

Common property can be accessed and used by all owners of the property.

When it comes to these elements of your community, should something go wrong, it is the responsibility of the Owners Corporation to have it repaired. For example, if the hallway light outside your apartment stops working, it’s not your specific problem to fix. Instead, the Executive Committee will take care of this, with the help of the Strata Manager. You could also have an issue with leaky pipes affecting the inside of your apartment but this is probably an Owners Corporation issue, not one for you to take care of as a unit owner.

The cost of upkeep, repairs and insurance on these common property areas are covered collectively by the Owners Corporation. By paying strata levies/fees each month, the corporation ensures there is always enough money to keep the premises in good working order for everyone to enjoy.

Private Property

As the owner of a unit in a strata community, you are personally responsible for everything within the four walls of your home.

This includes the paint, the carpet, the light fixtures and the internal walls. It may also include your car space and your garden area or balcony.

As the tenant, of course you don’t own any of these things. But if they need fixing, this is the responsibility of your landlord or property manager, not the Owners Corporation or Strata Manager.

What’s interesting about strata ownership is you still may need approval to change some elements of your home, even if you own them. While applying fresh paint and updating carpet are probably ok, you will likely need permission to knock out a wall or install an air conditioning unit. Because of this, it’s always best to double check with the Executive Committee before you start making changes within your four walls.

To add to this, the way you behave on private property and what you have on display may be governed by by-laws set by the Owners Corporation. Examples of this include smoking on balconies, hanging washing on balcony railings or being excessively noisy after 10pm. While these activities are taking place on your own private property, they may not be acceptable under the by-laws and you could be fined by the Owners Corporation.

If you are concerned about something faulty, dangerous or in need of repair on common property, contact your community’s strata manager or Executive Committee to let them know about the issue.