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Common area etiquette – the unwritten rules

Anywhere there is a common area you will find at least one group likely to claim the space as their own. But what are the unwritten rules around shared amenities?

Anna Musson is of the firm opinion that getting along with your neighbours is an essential life skill.

As the founder of social etiquette training school Good Manners, she spends her days training professional sports teams, corporate groups and individuals “looking for polish”, how to be the best versions of themselves.

Musson, who trained under etiquette stalwart June Dally-Watkins, argues there is a sign that should be posted in large font in all reception areas asking people to “live as though the comfort of the person who lives next to you is more important than your own”.

“We’re not saying your own comfort isn’t important but getting along with neighbours is a valuable discipline.”

Musson says there a number of key things to consider in terms of appropriate attire around common areas and chief among them is to get familiar with the fact your levels of body comfort do not matter at all. Nudity, pyjamas or inappropriate swimming costumes are a big no-no.

“Sun bathing topless is not appropriate in a communal area, while you may be comfortable, it may upset your neighbours. The same applies for teeny tiny bikini bottoms.

“You should always dress well enough that if you ran into someone you know you wouldn’t be embarrassed, so covering up in your swimmers is a good modesty policy,” she says.

Sharing is caring. Endeavour not to take over communal areas if you can help it and be ready to share the space. Your BBQ by the pool could be invaded at any time by children or other residents, so a welcoming attitude will prevent complaints. And always clean down BBQs and tables after use, that’s just basic manners.

Musson says when it comes to smoking, homeowners and tenants of apartments, townhouses and villas need to be aware of the rules regarding smoking within the complex. That includes your own home and common areas. Rules are in place to protect all residents and as the homeowner or tenant it is beholden on you to inform any visitors of these rules too.

“As a neighbour, be gracious with smokers. It’s entirely possible they don’t realise the smoke is blowing into your apartment and it’s usually over in a few minutes,” Musson says.

To prevent antagonising your neighbours when having guests over, the polite and most considerate option is to inform your guests ahead of time what their parking options are to ensure they park legally in visitor-allocated spaces and not in private parking areas.

Your relationship with your neighbours could be further strengthened if you also advise a designated end time for the festivities, she says.

“Inviting guests from 7-10pm instead of 7pm onwards gives you an option for closing the party before it gets late. If it’s a party, you could place a short note in your neighbours’ letterboxes, or on the communal front door if that’s more appropriate, saying something along the lines of…

‘Dear neighbours, we will be having a party on Saturday 1st December from 7pm – midnight. We have advised our guests it will close at midnight and requested they leave quietly. We apologise for any inconvenience. Please see us in Apartment 1 if you have any questions.

Thank you, Meg and Tom.’

This is particularly important if you are utilising common areas for your event. A peace offering of beer or wine will go a long way to avoid complaints against you.”

When in doubt, check with your building manager or ask your strata/community manager about procedures and rules of common facilities within your community.

Lastly, Musson says when looking to do the right thing by your neighbours you should always do your best to recycle correctly, avoid using the communal noticeboard for nasty notes and always ensure you wear soft slippers, socks or bare feet to minimise noise.

Most importantly, make the effort to get to know your neighbours, she says, as “you never know when you may need them”.

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