Keeping common areas clean and tidy

Keeping the common areas clean is part of your maintenance obligations. These obligations are set out in law and in your title deeds. Like common repairs, you are almost always obliged to do what the majority of owners agree with.

Stair cleaning

Keeping the common areas clean is part of your maintenance obligations.

Your title deeds may set out a cleaning schedule. You are also obliged by law to keep your common close clean to the satisfaction of the council. If you do not, the council can take action, leading to a fine. However, many councils do not have the resources to enforce this.

Many owners’ associations, property managers, and factors use a cleaning company to carry out this work and charge owners their share.

Problems with stair cleaning

If there is a problem with stair cleaning for a flat owned by a private landlord, you should contact the landlord or letting agent responsible for the property, rather than the tenants living in the property.

If owners aren’t sharing the responsibility for stair cleaning, there are a number of options to try:

  1. Establish a rota and put a schedule on the close wall or use the old fashioned system of having a card that can be hung on the flat front door knob. Once an owner has taken their turn of cleaning, they pass the card on to the next owner.
  2. Call a close meeting and take a vote on what action to take – maybe employing a cleaner. As cleaning is a maintenance obligation, a majority vote is required and all owners are required to pay.
  3. If conditions become unsanitary, then ask your council if they can take action under the Public Health Act.

If main door flats and shops have access to the close, then they are obliged to take their share of cleaning duties, even if they don’t use that access. However, use your common sense and if these owners don’t ever use that access, consider making an alternative arrangement that maintains harmony among owners.

Legal reference

Stair lighting

All communal areas should have lighting. You may have ‘scale burners’ that only come on when its dark or 24-hour burners.

In most situations, communal lighting comes from a separately metered landlord’s supply. Billing for the energy used may be co-ordinated by the factor or property manager if you have one. If you do not have a property manager, you will need to make your own arrangements.

See Owners’ associations and Keeping accounts for more information.

Some local authorities offer a comprehensive service in this regard, including the cost of electricity, and repairs, replacements, and periodic inspection of bulbs and luminaires (lighting fixtures). Local authorities may offer some help – search for ‘stair lighting’ or ‘communal lighting’ on their websites.

Glasgow City Council will make a charge for this service. Edinburgh City Council has now ceased its free service. Dundee City Council may offer a grant for installation.

Legal reference

Storing things on stairs

No items should be stored on the stairs where they:

  • cause an obstruction
  • might be a fire hazard

People often find it hard to find somewhere in their flats to store certain large items, such as bikes and prams. These are then left on the stairs. If they cannot be placed in a way that allows full access, then ask the owners to move them. You could also consider allowing bike owners to install a permanent fixing in the back court, to which they could padlock bikes.

Do not tolerate hazardous materials being stored on the stairs. If those responsible won’t remove the hazard, ask your fire authority to take action.

Legal reference


Front gardens are normally the responsibility of the ground floor owners (but check your title deeds).

Caring for communal gardens forms part of your maintenance responsibilities. This means you have to pay your share of gardening costs, in accordance with a majority decision of all owners. The decision can be enforced by taking legal action.

There are a number of ways that owners deal with back courts:

  • communal gardening equipment is purchased and owners take turns
  • one owner will assume responsibility for gardening
  • the garden is partitioned off with each owner having a patch to care for
  • rear garden walls are removed to create an open plan pocket park shared by all residents in the street block, run by a small committee, and everyone around pays a share of maintenance
Estate landscaping

This can involve owners of houses, as well as flats, and can be difficult to co-ordinate with a large number of owners involved.

Refuse disposal

If your refuse disposal facilities can’t cope with less frequent collections and an increase in the number of bins for sorting waste, you may need to seek greater co-operation from all residents, or consider a completely different arrangement for storing your bins.

You could consider:

  • asking your local council’s Refuse Collection Service for advice
  • calling a close meeting to discuss options
  • replacing bins generally (you may well have to pay for new bins yourselves)
  • building new bin stores (after consulting with your council)
  • working with neighbouring blocks to establish a better communal system for the whole block

Where the refuse system is being misused and causing a nuisance, it may be worth contacting your council’s Environmental Health Department.

900 600 Under One Roof

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