There are many perks to HOA living — increased security, protected property values, and a sense of neighborhood pride, just to name a few. And in some Community Associations, the perks go beyond the intangible and actually include physical benefits, like common spaces. These common spaces are areas that every member of the community can enjoy on their own time.
The mention of a common area might conjure up images of beige carpet, a handful of card tables, an ancient television, and a couple of threadbare recliners. However, many Community Associations have upgraded and refreshed these areas in recent years in an effort to both attract new residents and serve the needs of current residents, too. Updated common spaces now include things like fitness centers, tennis courts, pool areas, children’s play areas, rooftop lounges, and even bowling alleys and movie theaters. But common spaces don’t have to be expensive, extravagant amenities to be valuable resources to your Community Association. There are simple design tips and tricks to make even the blandest of lounge areas a place where members of your community want to spend their time.
Understanding a Common Space
Before diving into planning and designing a common space, it’s essential to understand exactly what that terms mean in a Community Association context. Many communities have both limited and general common elements. General common elements are spaces or things in the community that everyone can access and maintain the right to use as members. This includes community parks, clubhouses, and things of that nature. Limited common elements, on the other hand, are ones that are available to only a community member, but that the Community Association board still holds regulatory power over. For example, if an attached multi-unit residential building has a shared deck, that is a limited common element; the deck is only accessible to the residents who live in that particular building, but the board can still dictate the rules and regulations for what is and isn’t allowed within this space.
This distinction can become especially tricky when it comes to maintenance, as an Association will want to ensure that elements the whole community can enjoy are both safe to use and functioning as they should be. Looking to your Association’s governing documents — specifically the Master Deed or the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (or CC&Rs) — will help to achieve clarity around whether the board or the residents are responsible for the maintenance of different common elements.
A Space for All to Enjoy
The first step in creating the perfect common area for your Community Association is to ask for the input of all residents and members before making any alterations. Not only does this protect the board from a possible lawsuit, it also ensures that the community’s common space will be one that residents truly want and need to make their community life that much better. (As cool as a water slide might seem, it might not be the best common element for a Community Association of largely older residents, for example.) Asking for feedback from the community on what they would like to see in a common area and thinking about the community’s needs, demographics, and vision for the future are all great strategies for developing a fitting common space.
Regardless of what kind of common area is best for your Community Association, some basic design principles ring true. As the common area is a shared space that every resident should be able to enjoy, the design and decoration of the space should focus on simplicity and functionality above all else. Choosing a rainbow, zebra-printed rug and an elaborately beaded chandelier, for example, isn’t likely to be a functional, aesthetically pleasing design decision for most residents.
Thinking about how the furniture, lighting, and the overall arrangement of any pieces in the room serve the room’s essential function will produce the best result. And this goes for every element in the space. Choosing neutral colors, for example, such as whites or greys, have the most durability; lighter, cooler colors will make a space look bigger. Additionally, seating should be comfortable, furniture should be easy to rearrange (especially in a multifunction space), flooring should be non-slip, and all surfaces and space should be easy to clean.
Keeping Great Common Areas Great
The board usually takes responsibility for repairing, updating, or performing other maintenance on general common areas and elements. The board uses homeowner dues to fund this upkeep, which makes sense: If everyone is invited to use common areas, then everyone should be responsible for making sure they’re safe and enjoyable.
Even beyond general upkeep, it’s important to achieve clarity around any guidelines related to the use and functions of a common area. Otherwise, issues might arise around claims that certain users are “hogging” these spaces or using them for unintended purposes. Simple, precautionary solutions, such as formally writing up any rules pertaining to common spaces to post in a space that all residents have easy access to and maintaining a sign-up sheet for residents who want to use the common area with a large group, can help ensure that your common area remains an asset — and not a point of contention — to all members of a Community Association.