Have an experienced real estate lawyer carefully review the terms of your lease and photographs of the area in an effort to confirm that this area actually constitutes a "common area." if a judge can be convinced that the use of that area is a reasonably appurtenant to your unit, the landlord may be ordered to open it for you, and perhaps refund part of your rent. This is called "abatement of rent," and is used, for example, where a room within the leasehold becomes uninhabitable. The same principle may apply.
These comments are for general informational purposes and do not create an attorney-client relationship. Do not rely on this post as "legal advice." Consult with a licensed attorney regarding the specific facts of your case and your rights and liabilities.
The terms of your Lease will dictate what areas you can use.
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The distinction will be whether the stairs in question actually constitute "common areas" to which you would be entitled to use absent a specific exclusion in your lease or whether the stairs simply constitute "access" to one or more units and whether your apartment is one of those units. Was there a safety issue that you have not disclosed here that caused the landlord to install a locked gate?
Attorney is Licensed in Arizona, California, and Colorado only. The opinions and comments offered are in the nature of general business advice relating to generic questions that might be raised. The use of this site is not intended to form an attorney client relationship of any kind. The reader is advised that every situation is different and you should always consult in person with a licensed attorney for the particular jurisdiction in question when your legal rights may be effected.