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What is a Maisonette? A Comprehensive Guide

Planning Permission

Years ago, on my very first day of a new job, I was asked to take notes during a meeting with some property developers. I was furiously scribbling away, making sure I hadn’t missed anything, when one of the developers asked me, ‘Do you think flats would be better than maisonettes here?’

I almost had a panic attack, as I had no idea what a maisonette was!

Were they flats, were they a strange sort of house?

After that meeting, I enthusiastically took to Google to avoid ever being in that awkward position again.

I’m often asked lots of questions about maisonettes, so I thought it would be a good idea to note them down and answer them here.

In this post we will cover:

1. What does the term ‘maisonette’ mean?

The term ‘maisonette’ essentially refers to a flat. But, unlike most flats which are typically located on the same floor or level, maisonettes are often split over two levels with a private internal staircase.

The second distinguishing feature is that flats typically have a shared entrance door and communal lobby. A maisonette on the other hand will have its own private entrance.

Here’s an example of what a modern maisonette with an incredible spiral staircase looks like from the inside.

Picture of the inside of a Maisonette in London with a spiral staircase separating the two levels
The living areas of this Maisonette are separated by a stunning spiral staircase

2. What’s the difference between maisonettes and flats?

Access: Flats are usually accessed through a single doorway leading to a communal lobby. Maisonettes on the other hand have their own private exterior access to each property.

Layout: A flat is typically set over a single floor, but maisonettes are often split level connected by an internal staircase.

3. What’s the difference between maisonettes and houses?

Size: Maisonettes tend to be smaller in terms of total square footage when compared to houses. Whereas a maisonette might have 1 or 2 bedrooms, lots of houses have anywhere between 3 and 5 bedrooms – sometimes more!

Privacy: As maisonettes are essentially flats located within a building with other flats, there is usually less privacy when compared to a house. A house would also have its own garden whereas a maisonette might have access to a shared garden towards the rear.

Ownership: Usually a maisonette would be a ‘leasehold’ property. This means you own the property for a specific length of time, but you don’t own the land which the property sits on. A house on the other hand would be ‘freehold’, where you own both the house and the land on which it sits.

Service charge: As maisonettes have some communal areas, there is likely to be a service charge (a fee to maintain communal areas) and ground rent (a fee paid to the freeholder for using their land) if a leasehold. When you own your own house you wouldn’t be required to pay these fees to someone else.

Price: Maisonettes tend to be slightly smaller than houses and as a result they are often more affordable.

Upkeep: Houses might be more expensive to maintain. For example, if you have to replace your roof you would have to pay for it out of your own pocket. If you had a leak within a block of maisonettes however, all the leaseholders within that block would be expected to contribute.

Freedom: This is an important one. In a house you set your own rules and your neighbours are a little further away. Within a maisonette, there could be communal rules about owning pets or making noise after a particular time. Or worst of all… perhaps BBQs might not be permitted in a communal garden.

Mortgages: Some say that mortgages for maisonettes are harder to obtain than houses but there are specialist lenders in the UK who do provide these mortgages, so we don’t think this is so much of a problem.

Storage: We know that storage is always valuable, which is why loft space in houses is so convenient, where you can store all your winter clothes and old toys out of sight. Maisonettes might well not have access to that space, meaning you might have to get a little bit more creative to find that much-needed storage space.

Picture of the living room of a Maisonette with double height ceilings
A recently renovated Maisonette with double height ceilings, creating an incredible sense of space

4. Planning Permission and Maisonettes

This is where things become a little tricky.

Most houses in the UK benefit from what’s called ‘Permitted Development Rights’. These are changes (such as home extensions or loft conversions) you can make to your house without the need to apply for planning permission. If you’d like a little bit more information about ‘Permitted Development Rights’, read our comprehensive guide here.

Unfortunately, maisonettes are treated exactly the same as flats by the planning system, which means they do not benefit from ‘Permitted Development Rights’. This means that any exterior changes to a maisonette would require planning permission.

That’s not to say you can’t add extensions to maisonettes, it just means the process can be a little more complex as you need to adhere to your Local Planning Authority’s specific planning policies.

If you own part of a ground floor maisonette it makes it far easier to extend, as the garden space to the rear will be yours. But, if you are located on the 2nd or 3rd floors it would be far more challenging to take such a tall extension successfully through the planning system.

Ownership: It is also worth noting that as lots of maisonettes are leaseholds, you might also need to seek permission from everyone in your block to extend your property, which can sometimes be challenging to arrange due to the number of people involved.

5. Frequently Asked Questions

5.1. How many floors does a maisonette have?

Maisonettes are typically split over two floors whereas flats are usually arranged on the same floor.

5.2. Are maisonettes freehold?

In our experience most maisonettes are leasehold properties.

A leasehold means that you own the maisonette and the space within it, but not the land that it sits on. A leasehold will also be limited to a certain number of years, whereas a freehold house would be yours in perpetuity.

5.3. Do you pay a service charge if you own a maisonette?

Yes, usually. As there are communal spaces, you would need to pay a service charge to maintain them.

The service charge fees for maisonettes are often far less than flats as there is less communal space to manage.

If you do find the opportunity to buy the freehold of a maisonette you would own both the property and the land it sits on, which also means you would be responsible for maintaining that property yourself.

Picture of a bedroom in a Maisonette
The top floor of this Maisonette has a huge bedroom overlooking the living area below

5.4. Do maisonettes have stairs?

Yes, most maisonettes have their own private internal staircase linking the different floors together.

5.5. What are the advantages of owning a maisonette?

Cost: As maisonettes are often smaller than houses, they are more affordable.

Privacy: As maisonettes have their own entrances, you can have similar privacy to that of a house but at a much more affordable cost.

Storage: If you are lucky enough to own the top floor of a maisonette you would also be able to use the loft space for a little bit of extra storage.

Outdoor space: Maisonettes often have their own shared garden towards the rear similar to a house. This can be far more spacious than the balconies found on some new build flats.

Maintenance: It’s also nice that when repairs need to be made on a leasehold property those costs are shared between the different residents of the block, which makes them more affordable.

5.6 What are the disadvantages of owning a maisonette?

Shared facilities: Although maisonettes do benefit from their own private entrances, you might have to share a garden and in some cases a driveway.

Mortgage difficulty: Although it’s not impossible to get a mortgage for a maisonette, the fact that many are leaseholds means the lending criteria can be stricter. The amount you can borrow is also relative to how many years are left on the lease.

Ground rent and service charges: As maisonettes are often leaseholds, you will need to pay both ground rent and service charge. Ground rent is best described as a small fee paid to the freeholder for staying on their land and the service charge is paid to maintain the communal areas.

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