How Do You Determine What is Common Area in an HOA or Condo Association?

How Do You Find Out What is Common Area in an HOA or Condo Association?

A reader asks: “Where in the Civil Code can you find a definition for Common Area?”

Well, there’s this definition in the Davis Stirling Act:

4095.Common Area”

(a) “Common area” means the entire common interest development except the separate interests therein. The estate in the common area may be a fee, a life estate, an estate for years, or any combination of the foregoing.

(b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), in a planned development described in subdivision (b) of Section 4175, the common area may consist of mutual or reciprocal easement rights appurtenant to the separate interests. “

So what does that tell you? Not much. Besides the legal gobbledygook it says the common area consists of all the areas that are not an individually owned unit or Lot (that is what a separate interest is).

In order to really determine what areas are Common Area and what are not, you need to look further. You need to look at the CC&Rs, the legal descriptions, and if a condominium, the condo plan, if a townhouse or any development where the individually owned homes are on Lots, then you might also need to look at a plat map or subdivision map.

That is where you find out where the boundaries of the common area are. Sometimes though, it is not even clear, then, once you have all this paperwork before you, and you might need the help of a legal expert.

The usual additional questions about who fixes what and who can do what with what portion of their property are not always answered by the question of what is common area and what is not. For example, sometimes the Association maintains something on a lot, like roofs or painting of residences. And sometimes an owner maintains something that is in the common area, such as water pipes or electrical wiring that is outside of the individual unit, but that serves only that unit. Here, we are getting into areas that are exclusively used, and may or may not legally be defined as exclusive use common area, which is another can of worms. These other “cans of worms” are described in more detail in other blogs and some of my E-newsletters, and are also covered in some of the very affordable Primer publications available on my website at And then, of course, if things get too sticky and hard to understand, and you want competent legal counsel to answer questions, there is information also on the site about telephone consultations, which I do for owners and board members all over the state.

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