What is Common Property and Why is it Important?

what is common propertyBuying a unit is different from buying a house.

The key difference is the ownership structure.

With a house, your lot is your lot and that’s it.

With a unit the lot itself is only a part of the overall value of the unit.

As important is the common property of the body corporate within which the lot is contained.

So .. what is common property?

Picture an apartment building.what is common property?

That building will be made up of several apartments.

How do people get to and from their apartments? There must be some sort of access point; a foyer, stairs or a lift, some way for residents to get to and from their homes.

The stairs, the lift or other access points are vital to all the lots within the building, but who “owns” those areas?

Those areas are common property.

And a body corporate, or owners corporate as it’s sometimes called, is created expressly to hold and maintain the common property for the benefit of all the lot owners.

Examples of common property

Body corporates come in more shapes and sizes that just apartment buildings. The defining factor is shared ownership which can be accomplished over almost any sort of property.

And as body corporates come in many shapes and sizes, so too does common property.

The most common shared areas are:

  • stairways, lifts and foyers
  • basement car parking
  • gardens
  • pool areas
  • gyms
  • access roadways
  • infrastructure such as power, sewerage and water
  • joint walls (where half the wall is a lot and half is common property)
  • roofs

The common property of each body corporate is very individual. In Queensland defining common property is assisted by what type of plan the body corporate is registered under; Building Format Plan or Standard Format Plan. Different rules of defining common property will apply depending on your plan.

Who is responsible for common property?

One of the biggest issues that arises in body corporates is defining what is common property and what is a Lot.

It’s a big deal because the body corporate (or all the lot owners combined) are responsible for common property and the lot owner is solely responsible for the lot.

It’s much easier to fund 1/10th or 1/20th or 1/200th of a large problem that to fund it solely yourself. Conversely it’s frustrating to pay 1/10th or 1/20th of the cost of a problem when that problem is manifesting itself in another lot.

Consequently arguments can and often do erupt.

To quantify what is common property for your scheme refer to your plan. If you have further questions discuss the matter with your Body Corporate Manager, the Committee, or the Office Commissioner Body Corporate

Common Property and Exclusive Use

The common property is often defined as “everything not contained within a lot”. Sometimes though areas of the common property are allocated as exclusive use to a particular lot owner.

Exclusive use allocations must be recorded, either on the title itself or within the Community Management Statement. Once recorded that area becomes an extension of the lot it’s allocated too. Other lot owners may not use the exclusive use area.

In most cases the lot owner will be required to maintain the exclusive use area, although it’s important to note that the area does still remain common property. For instance, a penthouse lot owner may be granted exclusive use of the roof area, however, should a leak develop within the roof itself it would likely remain body corporate responsibility to repair (I say likely because every body corporate and circumstance is individual).

Why Common Property Is Important

common property

Buying a unit is different to buying a house. Most units are part of body corporates and that comes with additional responsibilities and risks, not least of which is the communal nature of the investment and living conditions.

The common property is used as a vehicle to offset the risk and responsibility of the body corporate by providing additional value.

And that value can be significant.

Some examples of added value include:

  • location eg beach side or city centre
  • building security
  • resort style pool areas
  • tennis courts
  • on-site management

Quite simply the building or complex and it’s facilities, it’s common property, forms a substantial part of the attraction and therefore the value of any given unit

Of course all these “extras” must be financed by the lot owners jointly so it’s a double edged sword.

It’s particularly important if the common property or body corporate has developed substantial and expensive problems that will need to be rectified at the cost of a lot owner.

Which is exactly why savvy investors obtain a pre-purchase strata report; to make sure they know what they’re buying into.

THE BASICS OF BODY CORPORATES

A little knowledge can go a long way


I see so many stressful and frustrating issues in body corporate records that result from simple misunderstandings it hurts my head. If I could do one thing to help it would be to teach everyone the basic rules, so they can avoid all these dramas.


With that in mind I've put together a short eBook that sets out the basics everyone owning in a body corporate really should know. It won't make those big issues go away, but it will give you a firm grounding from which to communicate.


It's completely free, so please, download it now!

Download Now

Comments

  1. Ivor Loveridge says:

    Can a body corporate committee give and owner of an apartment the right to mount an air conditioning unit on the outside common property wall of that apartment, the apartment has a designated air conditioning room in the as built registered plan. The owner wishes to take the air conditioning unit outside and use the room as living/storage hence increasing his unit entitlement and enjoyment over others. Further all air con units have been allocated designated covered space in the scheme.
    I would have thought common property cannot be given away in favour of an owner.

    • Hi Ivor

      Unless its a restricted issue the committee may give permission for an owner to mount an air conditioner on a common property wall.

      Of course as another owner you may object to the installation and lodge an objection through Office Commissioner Body Corporate. Be aware your objection must be reasonable to suceed.

  2. Robyn van Stom says:

    If there are 2 stories on a small townhouse complex does the bottom level define the lot for both stories or are there 2 boundaries one for downstairs and one for upstairs if the upstairs is inside the lot as defined by the plan and the black lines. By inside I mean it is not as wide at the top level as the bottom level.

    • Hi Robyn

      I’m not sure what you mean here.

      Are the two stories within one lot? Then the boundary of the lot includes the top story as per the plan.

      If there are two stories but upstairs is a separate lot then each lot has it’s own defined boundaries.

      It doesn’t make any difference what the size of the upstairs and downstairs is: its the boundaries on the plan that make a difference. The only other thing that matters is where the boundaries of common property and lot are defined. If a BFP then in the middle of exterior doors, walls, ceiling and windows. If a SFP then by pegs in the ground.

  3. Hi Lisa,

    If there is a stair that only services one unit, is the maintenance of that stair the responsibility of the owner or the body corporate?

    There is a small stair (only 6 or so risers) at our unit block that needs replacing, it only serves a small balcony that is within the boundary of an owners lot. Our title is defined by a building format plan.

    The owner is trying to get the body corporate to pay for the replacement of the stair, but I believe it is the owner’s cost?

    • Hi Steph

      You’re correct, infrastructure on common property that services only one lot is the responsibility of the benefiting lot owner.

      When we talk about infrastructure we usually mean pipes, wiring, stormwater etc, but the Office Commissioner Body Corporate website notes

      It can also be another system or service designed to benefit a lot or common property.

      • Thanks Lisa,

        Just to make sure I understand… Would this mean if the stair is on common property but only serves the one unit, would the cost to repair/replace it be the responsibility of the lot owner or the body corporate?

        The stair is just outside their lot boundary, connecting to a balcony that is within their lot. It only serves their unit (access to their back door).

        Thanks in advance,

        Steph

        • Hi Steph

          Yes, that’s correct. Infrastructure on common property that serves only one lot is the responsibility of that lot owner.

  4. Hi, I share a common driveway with only one other lot (in Victoria). We do not have a body corporate. I would like to pay for the sides of the drive way to be concreted so I can store a caravan there which will still give a 3m wide access path for vehicles to enter the property.

    Do I need to gain the permission from the other owner first? And once the work is completed how do I go about ensuring that it is only for my use as I’m concerned that when the caravan is away my neighbour may park in or use the space leaving me nowhere to store the caravan.

    Regards

    Paul

    • Hi Paul

      I don’t know about Victorian legislation. Here in Queensland you’d need to have the area allocated to the lot as exclusive use, assuming the land is common property. There might be a cost involved in that, sort of like buying the land. Alternatively it could be an improvement on common property for which the lot owner is responsible. Only by sorting the allocation can you make it truly yours to enforce freedom of parking.

      In NSW you would need to make a by-law, though it achieves the same sort of thing. I’d consider talking to a Solicitor in Victoria and the other owner.

  5. Megan Hillier says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I have a property in Gladstone. My lot has an old Queenslander on it and has road frontage. The previous owners have chopped the back yard off and built two townhouses at the rear. I have no need to access the common property. My driveway is at the front. The driveway to the two townhouses is at the side. There is a fence between my property and the side driveway. I’m tired of paying body corporate for something that I will never need to use. Is there a way out?

    Megan

    • Hi Megan

      Resolving this will depend on how your scheme was originally recorded. You could look at the possibility of having your lot excised from the body corporate and registered as it’s own lot. You will need to check that the block is big enough to be a lot in its own right. It might not be, which is why its part of a strata scheme.

      Talk to a town planner or surveyor to proceed.

  6. I live in an apartment with an Owners Corporation. The internal wall stair rail in my apartment has become detached – is it common property or am I responsible for repairing it?

    • Hi Anney

      If its inside your apartment then it is your responsibility.

      With the exception of the balustrade on an external balcony; except when the balcony overlooks exclusive use.

      Honestly, I can’t think why people find this so challenging. Its so clear and simple. Oh, wait…

  7. Hi Lisa, I was looking to buy a unit here in Victoria, which has residential strata insurance for common areas. I was advised not to go ahead with the purchase as it does not have active body corporate. What is difference between body corp and residential strata insurance? Thanks

    • Hi Sim

      Insurance is … insurance. Here in QLD if buildings are joint in any way then they must have joint insurance. Presumably the same of something similar happens in Victoria.

      If you have joint insurance then the premium will need to be paid by owners jointly. Who is responsible for collecting the money and how much do you collect? Where does it go? Who is responsible for negotiating and discussing with the Insurer or broker? Who follows up to make sure that claims etc are processed? This is the function of the body corporate. If no one is doing it then it makes things much harder for owners or, worse, things don’t get done, making the investment riskier.

      I’d say that’s at the root of the advice not to buy.

  8. Body Corporate in QLD are responsible for the ‘Building’ insurance? – there is a problem with my unit that seems to be with the footings and some shift in the building. The recommendation is for an engineer to look at this – will this inspection be the responsibility of the B/C or owner?

    • Hi Donna

      It will depend whether the footings are common property or part of the lot.

      If its part of the lot then its your responsibility.

      If its common property the body corporate will be responsible.

      Check out what sort of plan your scheme is registered under.

  9. Patrick O'Keefe says:

    Maybe late to the party but buying my first unit and while carrying out the building inspection the inspector said I should apply for an exclusive right with the body corp if I’m going to reno the inside of the unit as the roof space above me is contained by a firewall – in other words there should be no reasonable objection to my acquiring it and building a ceiling stair into it for storage. I know roof windows from other blogs and websites (so glad I’ve found yours – reading the ebook tonight!) are generally approved without too much hassle long as they do not change the actual roof inclination. The conversation began because as a solar engineer I would like to install panels and batteries with a hybrid inverter in my roof space to power my unit (as well as installing an individual water meter – I am very environmentally conscious and find the roof space a waste in principle).

    What would you propose I should do? Will there likely be costs involved? Any experiences or suggestions to share? Is renoing it expensive? Any leads or tips to look at (like articles or blog posts or episodes of shows and whatnot? Regulations etc…)? I am located in 4557. Thank you!

    • Hi Patrick

      Exclusive rights is something they do in NSW. In QLD its going to come down to a question whether the area is common property or not and that will depend on the configuration of your scheme.

      Either way you’re definitely going to need formal approval from the body corporate, both for the installation of the solar panels on the roof and the works to the interior of the lot.

      As to transforming the void inside your lot: that’s a complicated question, and again, comes back to your lot configuration. If there’s a firewall then the area could be common property, or alternatively, there may be restrictions on what you can achieve without compromising fire safety. Some comprehensive discussions will be needed with the body corporate, and most likely, reports from professionals reassuring them that the renovation will not damage common property or compromise safety. This is normal for any renovation, but will be more crucial as you’re talking about the roof. Start the process by getting clear on whether the area is lot or common property and having plans for the renovation drawn up.

      I have seen disputes on this matter. Sometimes, when roof voids are absorbed into lots, the body corporate may seek to amend contribution lot entitlements as a result of ‘increasing’ the size of the lot. The counter argument is of course you’re not increasing the lot so much as utilising it better.

      This will be a complicated process Patrick and will require patience and negotiation with the committee. You’re discussing a complex change with, essentially lay people, and you will need to convince them it will work without problem.

  10. Jan dalton says:

    I may have a leaking water pipe servicing my unit under the slab. It is not showing any visible signs on my property but some possible seepage to the terrace below on another units back yard. There is no damage just seepage. I have been told by the body corporate manager that it will be billed to me. The plumber may want to reroute the plumbing inside my unit – a very costly job even though the internal plumbing has no leaks. I feel this is an ifrastructure fault which should be dealt with by the body corporate insurance as my unit has no leaks.

    • Hi Jan

      You’re always free to argue your point about responsibility, or even necessity, of works. You can object via Conciliation or Adjudication to any works being charged to you, though do please note that this may attract additional legal costs.

      I would point out “I’m not affected” is not a valid defence. If the infrastructure that is leaking is pipes that service only your lot then you are responsible for rectifying the issue, regardless of whether the symptoms are apparent on your lot or not.

      The big question is whether the infrastructure services only your lot. That the pipes travel through your lot is not conclusive proof they’re not carrying waste/water from/to other lots as well. You need to verify where the leak is and what the pipes are that are leaking. If they service more than one lot then they are common property and body corporate responsibility.

  11. Jan dalton says:

    Thank you so much for your prompt reply Lisa. The fact that the leak may be deep under the slab was my moot point. Obviously a second plumbing opinion is needed and further investigation. Thanks again. What a wonderful site this is. Cheers Jan.

  12. Trudy mcdermott says:

    Can a new owner of a unit four on the block build a extra room a on common ground which has been done all the units are owned but all the areas behind them and driveway is common groundthe new owner has built a extra room on the common ground behind her unit how does affect the body corporation insurance she claims shes paying her own insurance we all pay to a body corporation insurance iam writting this for my neighbor whos 93yrs old so we can work out her insurance and to try and find out if she is still liable with anyone get injured in this room thats built on common ground

    • Hi Trudy

      An owner may make an improvement on common property if the lot owners approve a resolution without dissent at a general meeting. Essentially the owners are allocating the area to that lot owner so it’s as if the land is being sold. Please note a resolution without dissent doesn’t mean everyone has to agree it means that no one owner votes no to the motion at the meeting.

      Check minutes of meetings to see if the common property was allocated to the lot owner.

      If it wasn’t then the owner must object to the lot owner taking it. Its common ground and they have no right to just take it. When objecting consider what outcome you’d like, such as return of the ground or approval given. Selling or giving away common property is one of the few areas where the body corporate may seek a financial restitution.

      This is complex legal area and if you choose to pursue it might be worth seeing a lawyer. The place to start is to check if permission was granted. If not, talk to the other owners. Ask how they feel. Let the owner who’s done it know you disapprove. See what comes of it. From there seek Adjudication or legal advice.

  13. Trudy mcdermott says:

    Can a new owner of a unit four on the block build a extra room a on common ground which has been done all the units are owned but all the areas behind them and driveway is common groundthe new owner has built a extra room on the common ground behind her unit how does affect thcorporation insurance she claims shes paying her insurance we all pay to a body corporation insurance iam writting this for my neighbor whos 93yrs old so we can work out her insurance and to try and find out if she is still liable

    • Hi Trudy

      An owner may make an improvement on common property if the lot owners approve a resolution without dissent at a general meeting. Essentially the owners are allocating the area to that lot owner so it’s as if the land is being sold. Please note a resolution without dissent doesn’t mean everyone has to agree it means that no one owner votes no to the motion at the meeting.

      Check minutes of meetings to see if the common property was allocated to the lot owner.

      If it wasn’t then the owner must object to the lot owner taking it. Its common ground and they have no right to just take it. When objecting consider what outcome you’d like, such as return of the ground or approval given. Selling or giving away common property is one of the few areas where the body corporate may seek a financial restitution.

      This is complex legal area and if you choose to pursue it might be worth seeing a lawyer. The place to start is to check if permission was granted. If not, talk to the other owners. Ask how they feel. Let the owner who’s done it know you disapprove. See what comes of it. From there seek Adjudication or legal advice.

  14. B. Caligari says:

    I have a unit in a townsville community. The unit has a veranda and a Balustrade boundary that separates my lot from common property. The common property outside the balustrade is about 300mm wide and forms a gutter which diverts water from the veranda to to side outflows diverting the wateraway from the front of the building. The body corporate accepts that damage to this common property (lifting tiles) is its responsibility but claims that these same tiles on common property are my responsibility. How can this be when the Body corporate is solely responsible for common property. There is no exclusive use or other limitation on the common property. The tiles on my lot and those on the common property are identical.

    • Hi

      I’m not sure what you’re saying about the “same tiles on common property”. It sounds like they’re agreed to fix infrastructure that serves more than one property, the external drain, but leaving the tiles that service your lot to you. I agree with that: tiles on a lot owner’s balcony are lot owner responsibility.

      I may have the wrong end of the stick there. Let me know.

  15. B. Caligari says:

    The lot’s veranda has a balustrade boundary, Common property about 300mm wide extends from this boundary to the edge of the building and serves as a drain. The tiles on the lot are identical to those extending beyond the boundary into the common property. I would have thought that the common property beyond the balustrade was the responsibility of the body corporate. regardless.
    Thank you for the reply

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