Most people assume they know what a flat is, but definitions can be more difficult.
Here is one:
“A flat is a separate and self-contained premises constructed or adapted for use for residential purposes and forming part of a building which it is divided horizontally from some other part of it.”
There is no legal distinction between flats, maisonettes and apartments. Maisonettes tend to have a separate outside door and sometimes a stretch of garden land. Some people think of two storey flats as maisonettes. “Apartment” is an Americanism used now by builders and estate agents for a flat to improve the image for sales purposes.
Most Flats are Leasehold
The overwhelming majority of English and Welsh Flats are Leasehold. Sometimes they will be described as “Shared Freehold”, but they will still have Leases.
A lease is a legal document that gives a right to possess a building or area of land, or just part of a building, such as a Flat or Maisonette, for a period of time. Even short term lettings are technically leases, but people often use the term “tenancy” in this case. Leases of flats and maisonettes have been commonly for 99 or 999 years, but could be for any period. In recent years the fashion has been to grant flat leases for 125 years.
Without going into a lot of detail, leasehold tenure means that there is means of ensuring that issues related to maintenance and insurance of the building containing the flats can be dealt with satisfactorily. This assumes that the leases and surrounding arrangements have been set up properly. This isn’t always the case – hence the need for a solicitor to check these things very carefully!
Arrangements for maintenance and insurance of flats can vary greatly, but an explanation of the two most common situations is on a page about Maintenance Responsibilities for Flats and Maisonettes.
There is a lot more information about this more specialised topic on the Shared Freehold Flats page and those linked to it. There are also explanations about other cases where freeholds are involved with flat ownership, but which are not actually Freehold Flats, and why pure Freehold Flats are normally unmortgageable.
A few years ago the Government introduced a new kind of flat ownership called Commonhold. This is effectively freehold without the legal problems. It is very difficult in practice to convert existing leasehold developments to commonhold, and builders do not like the system. As there are only a handful of developments in all of England & Wales using these system, we do not go into it further here.
If you need any assistance or advice in relation to conveyancing, lettings or any other property-related matter, you are encouraged to contact Richard Webster & Co. for a free, no-obligation, initial consultation.
Richard Webster is the founder of Richard Webster & Co. which a specialist in residential property and conveyancing and is accredited by The Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS). Please do not hesitate to contact the firm on 023 8000 4321 for any queries that you may have in relation to any residential property matters.
This article does not present a detailed statement of the Law and does not constitute as legal advice. This is a summary only and legal advice should always be sought on an individual case basis.