When looking for a new home to buy or rent, you may come across properties described as a ‘maisonette’.
Halfway between a house and a flat, the word ‘maisonette’ literally translates from French as ‘little house’. Maisonette has a variety of technical meanings depending on where you are in the world. For example, in England and Wales, a maisonette is defined primarily by its private street access, while in Scotland multiple floors are more relevant for the term to apply.
In this article, we explore the various definitions of maisonettes around the world. We then examine the unique advantages and disadvantages of these properties in comparison to conventional houses and flats. Finally, we look at important issues that may affect maisonette owners. These include considering purchasing the freehold, understanding maintenance responsibilities and considering expansion options.
Maisonette meaning – what is it?
In England and Wales, a maisonette is a type of residential dwelling that typically occupies two or more floors within a larger building and has a private entrance from the street. However, in Scotland, a maisonette refers specifically to a duplex or two-story flat within a larger building.
Unlike in the rest of the UK, Scottish maisonettes do not typically have their own street entrance and instead share an entrance with other flats in the building. “Maisonette” is a broad term in much of the rest of Europe and can include things like small chalets and holiday houses.
In the United States, the term is not commonly used. When it is, it typically refers to a small, self-contained apartment within a larger building. Often, Americans refer to the properties that the English would call maisonettes as duplexes.
Maisonette vs Flat
As stated above, one of the main differences between a maisonette vs a flat is the way they are accessed. A maisonette has its own private entrance from the street, while a flat is accessed via a shared internal corridor or stairwell. This distinction is significant, as maisonettes have lower maintenance costs due to the absence of communal areas.
Unlike flats, which are often built in blocks, maisonettes are usually part of a larger property that has been subdivided. This means that they often have a more unique design. Additionally, maisonettes are usually more spacious than flats and are more likely to offer shared or private outdoor space. This can be a real bonus if space is important to you.
Another advantage of maisonettes over flats is that they tend to be quieter. This is because they often have fewer neighbours as well as people passing by.
Maisonette vs House
Maisonettes and houses differ in several ways and offer different advantages.
One advantage of maisonettes is that they are often more affordable than houses, even on a per-square-foot basis. In fact, many are comparable in size to two-bedroom bungalows but cost substantially less to buy. Maisonettes in major cities such as London are often located above retail shops, bars or restaurants. Due to their position next to another home or business, they tend to be warm, cosy, and relatively inexpensive to heat. Finally, they often have a smaller frontage than houses and a single entrance, making them less attractive targets for burglars.
However, compared to detached houses, maisonettes have some drawbacks worth considering. Maisonettes typically only have access to shared gardens, while private houses usually have their own outdoor spaces. Parking can also be an issue for some maisonette owners, especially those without garages or driveways. Urban residential streets can be difficult to find parking on and expensive from an insurance perspective.
Another potential disadvantage is that many maisonettes have multiple floors, making them unsuitable for people with mobility issues. In these cases, permission from the freeholder may be necessary for additional accessibility features to be installed. A ground floor flat or bungalow may be a better option than a maisonette for those with limited mobility.
Should I buy my maisonette’s freehold?
Maisonettes in the UK are often sold as leasehold property.
This means the buyer owns the property for a fixed period of time, as set out in a lease agreement with the freeholder or landlord. This lease can last for decades or centuries, but eventually, the ownership of the property will revert back to the freeholder.
During the lease period, the leaseholder may have to pay certain fees to the freeholder, such as ground rent and maintenance fees. They may also have restrictions on what they can do with the maisonette. This could include not being allowed to make structural changes without the freeholder’s permission.
Freehold ownership means that the buyer owns both the property and the land it sits on outright and indefinitely. This means that they have complete control over the property and the land it sits on and are responsible for all maintenance and upkeep.
Leaseholders in the UK have a statutory right to extend their leases or purchase the freehold to their property.
Often people who own a maisonette can collaborate with their neighbours to buy the freehold for their properties from the freeholder. Each neighbour typically buys a share in the freehold to the land, rather than buying their own section.
Buying the freehold to a maisonette can substantially increase how much the property is worth, reduce costs, and gain more control over it. Generally, homeowners do this with the help of a professional conveyancer.
Who is responsible for maintenance?
The responsibilities for maintaining a maisonette differ based on whether you are a leaseholder or freeholder. If you are a leaseholder, you are typically responsible for the interior of your home, while the freeholder or their management company is responsible for the exterior of the building and shared spaces. This includes repairing the roof, maintaining communal gardens, and ensuring staircases and any lifts are clean and safe to use. The freeholder will usually charge a maintenance fee to cover these costs and these can be substantial and rise over time.
If you own your maisonette as a freeholder, your maintenance responsibilities will depend on which part of the building you own. Owners of ground floor sections typically pay for upkeep and maintenance of the foundations. And owners of upper sections are usually responsible for the roof and guttering. In short, owners are responsible for their own section of the structure of the building.
If exterior work needs to be completed, all owners must contribute to cover the cost of their part of the building. This can lead to disagreements when neighbours have different aesthetic standards since all parties must agree to the work at the same time. Meaby & Co Solicitors have produced a handy guide to repair obligations under maisonette leases.
Can I extend my maisonette?
Extending a maisonette can be much more challenging than extending a traditional house, even if you own the freehold. Unlike houses, maisonettes do not benefit from permitted development rights. This means any significant modifications require planning permission and are more likely to be rejected.
However, some homeowners still manage to gain planning permission for extensions. If you own a ground floor maisonette, a traditional side or rear extension may be feasible, while those on upper floors can consider loft extensions and dormers.
Nonetheless, it is important to consider the potential difficulties and expenses of obtaining planning permission before pursuing any plans to extend. Before embarking on any applications to extend a maisonette you should consult a professional architect or planning consultant to ensure that any proposed changes are both feasible and have a good chance of success.
Owning a maisonette has both benefits and drawbacks. While they tend to offer more space, privacy and better energy efficiency than a traditional flat they can have onerous leases leading to restrictions preventing any plans to extend. Maisonettes are often found above shops, bars and restaurants in cities which can lead to some noise during busy hours.
When looking at this type of property for sale you should think carefully before deciding to proceed. This will help to ensure a property fits in with your plans for both your current and future lifestyle.
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