Understanding the Common Area in Apartments and Commercial Properties

Common areas, those often overlooked shared spaces found in apartment buildings and commercial properties, are key pieces of the communal living puzzle. This guide covers what exactly qualifies as one of these community hubs and how property owners can ensure they remain clean, safe, and accessible for all.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
April 26, 2024
Understanding the Common Area in Apartments and Commercial Properties

Common areas, those oft-overlooked shared spaces found in apartment buildings and commercial properties, are key pieces of the communal living puzzle. This guide covers what exactly qualifies as one of these community hubs and how property owners can ensure they remain clean, safe, and accessible for all.

(Image here)

Think about the places in buildings where we all come together, whether it's where we live or work. These spots are the heart of our shared space, making it comfortable and safe for everyone to move around. They're kind of like the unsung heroes of our community living setup.

Properly taking care of and using these shared spaces has a positive impact on everyone's experience in the building, whether you're a tenant, property manager, or visitor — and prevents any heated arguments over who left their dirty socks in the laundry room.

This article explains common areas, covering what they are, the types you might find, and what landlords and tenants need to do to take proper care of them.

Having clear rules for common areas helps property managers and residents cooperate better. When everyone knows and obeys the rules, it creates a community where people respect each other and the property.

What is a common area?

A common area, also referred to as a shared or communal space, is any part of an apartment building meant for more than one person living there to use. These areas, such as lobbies, fitness centers, swimming pools, and rooftop terraces, are for everyone to hang out, socialize, or move around easily.

You can find common areas in various types of properties, including an apartment building, condominium complex, and or even in a new housing development.

The property owner or landlord is responsible for managing these areas, using a portion of their rental income towards maintaining these areas.

The importance of common areas

Well-maintained common areas can help your property attract more tenants by standing out from competitors. These spaces are often the first thing potential renters notice when visiting, and appealing, functional amenities can be a major deciding factor in their choice of residence.

For existing residents, common areas provide opportunities to socialize and get to know one another, which helps create a sense of community and increases tenant satisfaction. Offering inviting and functional shared spaces helps property owners create a more appealing and enjoyable living environment overall.

Laws regarding common areas

Specific laws and rules govern how common areas should be used and maintained. These laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and local building codes, mandate accessibility, safety, and equal access for all tenants.

Landlords have specific responsibilities to maintain each common area so that all residents can use them without impediments. These include regular cleaning, repairs, and upgrades to keep the spaces in good condition and compliant with legal requirements. 

Tenants have the right to access these areas equally, regardless of their race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics, and must follow established rules regarding their use for a pleasant living environment.

If there are disputes over the use or upkeep of common areas, such as one tenant causing damage or monopolizing a space, it can involve a legal process to confirm a fair outcome. Tenants may need to provide evidence of the issue, and landlords must take appropriate action to resolve the problem in accordance with local laws and regulations.

If anyone wants to make changes to the common areas, like remodeling or using the space for a different purpose, all the property owners in condominiums or housing developments must agree on it. This way of working together helps keep the shared living spaces in good condition for everyone living there. 

What counts as a common area?

A common area can be any space, inside or outside. Common-use areas in an apartment complex typically include:

Entryways, fire exits, and stairwells

Entryways, fire exits, and stairwells, or any place you use to enter, exit, or roam around a building or cooperative residential facility, are considered common areas. These also include lobbies, hallways, elevators, and outdoor walkways. They provide safe and easy access to individual units and other common areas.

Parking facilities

Many buildings offer shared parking lots or garages for residents. Some complexes may also offer premium reserved parking spaces for a fee.

Outdoor areas

Rooftops and outdoor spaces like courtyards, gardens, playgrounds, parks, and patios are often shared amongst residents or tenants. These areas allow people to relax, play, and socialize with neighbors.

Community amenities

Properties usually provide shared amenities or facilities for the benefit of all residents. These can include a laundry room, clubhouses, fitness centers, swimming pools, community kitchens, or even shopping malls in some commercial community facilities. These help enhance living experiences and facilitate connections among people.

Landlord obligations

If you're a landlord or manage a residential or commercial property, you have responsibilities in shared spaces. Taking care of these areas increases tenant satisfaction and prevents safety issues. Key responsibilities where the landlord retains control include:


Property owners must confirm that common areas are accessible to all tenants, including those with disabilities. This includes complying with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to accessible entrances, paths, and facilities.


Property management is responsible for keeping common areas clean, safe, and in good condition. This includes routine cleaning, timely repairs of any damage, and confirming all facilities and equipment function properly. To assist with these maintenance tasks in common areas, landlords may utilize community service personnel or other specialized resources.


Property owners must follow all local, state, and federal regulations concerning common areas. This includes health and safety codes, building codes, and any specific laws that govern residential buildings like apartment complexes or condominiums.

Pest control

If bugs or pests show up in any shared area, the apartment owner must get professional pest control services to help. This keeps the common area safe and healthy for everyone who lives there.


Each common area should have adequate lighting and secure locks wherever they’re appropriate. Property management must verify safety equipment like fire extinguishers and smoke detectors work correctly.


Landlords and property managers may also secure entrances to the complex. This might include hiring security guards or setting up systems to control who can enter the facility.

Cultivating a space all the tenants will appreciate

Common areas are the backbone that allows multifamily residential and commercial properties to function effectively for all occupants. From hallways to amenities, these shared spaces require a joint effort between landlords and tenants to maintain.

For landlords, common area obligations go beyond just maintenance. Confirming accessibility, implementing safety protocols, and complying with regulations are mandatory. Components like pest control, security provisions, and operational amenities ultimately shape the tenant experience.

When landlords invest in upkeep and tenants use the spaces properly, these shared areas can serve their purposes successfully and provide a higher quality of experience in the property. Tenants also play a key role by using these areas responsibly and following established rules. When shared spaces are treated with care and respect, everyone wins.

What are common areas? FAQs

What is a common area lease?

A common area lease, also known as a full-service lease, is a commercial lease agreement. In this type of lease, the landlord manages all the shared spaces, such as lobbies, hallways, restrooms, and parking lots.

What is the difference between CAM and NNN?

CAM, short for common area maintenance, is a fee landlords charge to maintain shared areas. NNN, or triple net, is a type of lease in which tenants agree to pay a share of property expenses like taxes and maintenance, along with rent.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

Other related articles

Rental rundown background image
Rental rundown hero image

Whether you’re a property owner, renter, property manager, or real estate agent, gain valuable insights, advice, and updates by joining our newsletter.

Subscriber Identity

I am a

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Streamline Maintenance Requests

Keep communications and maintenance requests organized, all in one place

Learn more