Common areas in buildings: The centre of discord

Zonas comunes de edificios

 I suppose that for an expat who just bought a nice apartment near the beach may be astonish to find out that a community owner may entail some thorny business. Ignorance of the rules and regulations governing these areas can cause frequent disputes.


He or she may come home one day to find that someone has installed clotheslines right in the middle of the very nice internal patio. The communal roofs have been converted into private terraces, gardens transformed into football pitches etc.


Unpleasant clashes between co-owners.

Common areas are usually a source of conflicts for the neighboring communities. So much so that often the problems arising from their use and enjoyment may end up in unpleasant clashes.


Frequently, the abuses of the use of these common areas are due to the lack of knowledge of the communities of owner’s rules and legislation.

The problem may start when someone who commenced as a nice friendly neighbor on a permanent basis or at specific moments, use a particular common area for their own particular interests. Mind you they are in their right, be known that this practice is absolutely legal, but with nuances.


Prevent greater evils.

The Horizontal Property Law and article 396 of the Civil Code, allows a single neighbor to enjoy certain common areas, but always with respect for other residents and the rules of the community, should reflect the privileges and the consequences of its enjoyment.


To prevent greater evils, I recommend implementing restrictions on the use of common areas as soon as the first General Annual Meeting take place, otherwise some neighbors may think that the pool, for example belongs to them, showing a complete disregards for the interests of the rest of owners. That is why the norms agreed previously in a General Annual Meeting or the regulations that perhaps may have been incorporated in the urbanization bylaws should be broadly displayed around the pool or common areas and if possible in various languages, depending of the nationalities of the owners. This simple solution could obviate a lot of headaches later on.


Any owner wishing to make a particular use of a common area of the estate or urbanization must request it from the community and this be incorporated in the bylaws if so approved by the General Meeting.


To release any common space for private use, the applicant shall communicate it in writing for the inclusion in the agenda of the next GM, which will be required the unanimous vote of the owners. Once approved, the change must be incorporated in the deeds before a notary and registered in the land register.


Always obtain professional advice first.

In any case I strongly recommend obtaining professional advice from a solicitor or administrator before any approval is considered, as normally this sort of changes could set into action all sorts of cumbersome repercussions.


When a dispute cannot be resolved through negotiation, community owners and neighbor can go to court or request arbitration, provided both parties are in agreement.


With respect to the invasion of common areas, the Horizontal Property Act provides means to combat this sort of events. To do this, a GM must be organized, empowering the President to make a request in writing to the offenders, and finally, and if necessary to demand the owner via court action. This could be the case of an owner with a car larger than the average parking space and persistently invades the neighbor's. According to Article 394 of the Civil Code, each owner can enjoy any common areas provided that do not harm the interest of the community and prevent other neighbors from using it too.


In covered garages for instance it is considered common areas the driveways, spaces to carry out maneuvers but not the parking lot itself. Therefore, when a situation affects any resident first it is advisable to politely contact the person who breaches the norm and expose the problem. In case that no satisfaction is obtained from the neighbor, the administrator should be approach to include this issue in the agenda of the next GM to demand the termination of the over-extended use.


If, after a time, the neighbor does not change his attitude, the only alternative is that of civil court action. The demand may be brought by the community or by the affected resident/s themselves. If you opt for the courts of justice, it is recommended to ask an expert (normally a notary) to report or testify the existence of this infringement to the judge.


Which are the common areas of a building?

Generally they are the following, although in some occasion there may be exceptions due to the idiosyncrasies of the building itself.

  • Floor slabs, overhangs, foundations and roofs.
  • Structural elements such as pillars columns, beams, slabs and load-bearing walls.
  • Facades, including their finishes, balconies and windows, including its esthetics or configuration, the enclosing shell elements comprising them and their external finishes.
  • Entrance hall, stairs, corridors, stairs, courtyards, wells and cabinets intended for lifts, tanks, meters, installations or other services or common facilities.
  • Lifts and installations, water pipes and drainage pipes for and for the supply of water, gas or electricity, and now days any installation for the common use of solar energy.
  • Installations of sanitary hot water, heating, air conditioning, ventilation or exhaust fumes.
  • Detection and fire prevention installations.
  • Electronic door entry and other security within the building or external areas, as well as the collective antennas and other facilities for audiovisual services or telecommunications, all of these services up to the line of the estate boundary.


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