Flat vs Apartment: What is the difference between a flat and an apartment

Many of us use the words flat and apartment interchangeably in India. When you are looking to buy or rent a home, even a broker will say flat and apartment in the same breath, speaking about the same property. To us, it usually means a living unit in a building with a hall, kitchen, bedroom(s) and bathroom(s).

However, a flat and apartment aren’t quite the same when you speak about them outside of India. Flat is a word that is used mostly in the United Kingdom. It emerged during the industrial revolution immigrants from rural to urban areas began moving to cities and the need for buildings with affordable rental units became popular.

In America, people say ‘apartment’ when referring to the same housing units. In some cases though, the term ‘apartment’ indicates a better standard of accommodation than ‘flat’ would imply.

What is a flat?

The origin of the word ‘flat’ came from the Old English word ‘flet’ which referred to any place made for living – its literal meaning is house or floor. It dates back to the 1300s. The Scottish word ‘flet’ translates to the house interior. Today, the word is used to describe a living unit in a building which is on a single level.

What is an apartment?

The Italian word ‘appartamento’ is where the word apartment originates from. This word means private rooms for a person or a family to use in a house. The French word appartement is also where ‘apartment’ has originated from and it similarly means ‘a separated place’. It is usually used in American English, whereas the word ‘flat’ is used as an equivalent to ‘apartment’ in British English.

What is the difference between a flat and an apartment in India?

The term ‘flat’ and the term ‘apartment’ aren’t very different from each other, especially if you are living in India. The term is used identically here. However, if you do live abroad, there are some differences you should be aware of. For instance, in America, an apartment is a rented residential unit in a building with many such residential units. However, if these units are owned, they are called ‘condos’ – short for condominium.

In multi-story residential units, with no other residents living above or below your space, this type of residence is referred to as a ‘townhouse’.

Then there is a duplex, which is a multi-family home which has two units in the same building. While these separate units will share a common wall, their floor plan can be different. The two residential units can either be side by side or one on top of the other.

In the UK, the term ‘apartment’ has a more premium connotation than the term ‘flat’. An apartment is considered to be a residential unit that is luxurious and owned by high-society residents. The term ‘flat’ is often used when talking about homes belonging to lower-income residents of buildings.

In India, we use ‘flat’ and ‘apartment’ as if these are the same. Your preference for the term you use may depend on whether you are more accustomed to British English or American English. In India, the term flat can sometimes refer to living units of a smaller size in smaller, standalone buildings. In this case, a flat is a single residential unit that takes up a single floor of a building.

On the other hand, an apartment is often thought of as one of several residential units in a large building complex (which could have multiple buildings and blocks). Apartments are usually several residential units per a single floor as these buildings tend to be larger than those containing flats. In an apartment building, there could be multiple units of different sizes, such as 1BHK, 2BHK, 3BHK in a single floor. A building with flats would usually have only a single, smaller flat of one size per floor.

Pros and cons of living in a flat

1. Pros

There are usually a smaller number of living units in a building with flats and therefore you have more of a say in issues regarding the building. For example, if you buy an under-construction property, you may be able to give your inputs on the construction quality, materials used and the amenities to be provided by the developers.

As there are fewer residents in buildings containing flats, there is often more privacy and fewer rules governing the building. Flat owners rarely face issues that some apartment complex residents may come across regarding parking rules, pet ownership, etc.

Flat owners usually stay in buildings that are more centrally located which could make commuting to schools and workplaces easier. The availability of a range of shopping, healthcare and entertainment options could also be better.

2. Cons

Flats tend to have poorer security as there may be just one or two security guards to take care of the building.

Cleanliness and maintenance can also be a concern when there are fewer residents to pay and keep track to these services.

The amenities in buildings that contain flats can be limited as space is a constraint. So you may not find the facilities you enjoy in apartment complexes such as swimming pools, sports courts, game rooms and gyms.

Pros and cons of living in an apartment

1. Pros

When you live in an apartment, you are most likely to enjoy a building with a more spacious compound, especially if your housing society has many buildings.

Apartment complexes usually have amenities such as a swimming pool, gym, badminton court, basketball court, football field, club house and more.

Apartments tend to be cheaper to purchase as there are many residential units in these high-rise buildings that are often situated away from the main areas of the city where land prices are higher.

Because there are so many residents, the likelihood of making friends and socialising is higher.

Security and maintenance is often better in apartment complexes than in flats because there are so many people contributing and keeping track.

2. Cons

As there are a larger number of living units in an apartment complex, you may not have a lot of say in issues, especially if you disagree with the majority. Inputs on construction quality, materials used and the amenities to be provided by the developers will probably not be up for discussion.

In apartment complexes, there are usually a greater number of rules governing the buildings. Flat owners often have to abide by strict rules on parking, guest parking, pet ownership, changes to the flats and more.

Apartment owners usually stay in complexes that are not as centrally located, which could make commuting to schools and workplaces time-consuming.

The differences between a flat and an apartment in India

If we go by the usual definition of a flat and apartment in India, we can point out the subtle differences between the two. Here’s are the key differences

Flat Apartment
Word of British origin Word of American origin
Usually is segregated into a hall, master bedroom, smaller bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen Does not have a definite living plan and can be any form of dwelling – studio apartment, standard apartment, townhouse or duplex
Has all the basic living amenities May have more than the basic amenities
Usually considered an average to premium living space Usually considered to be a premium living space
Often referred to living units in smaller standalone buildings Often referred to living units in larger complexes with multiple buildings
Tend to be more popular in well-known areas that have been developed for a long time Usually popular in areas further away from the city centre where space is more abundant
May be more expensive than an apartment Can be less expensive than a flat, especially if it is far away from the city centre

There’s no hard and fast rule that you must choose one over the other when looking to rent or buy a home. Most people will look at flats and apartments when searching for a place to live.

Whether you choose an apartment or a flat to live in will really depend on which area you’d like to live in, the affordability of the rent or price of the home, the number of bedrooms and size of place you require, what amenities you are looking for and which home you finally see yourself comfortable in.

Other important factors to keep in mind are parking, easy access to public transport, security of the building or complex as well as security of the neighbourhood, maintenance and whether there is smooth and cordial communication between residents and the managing committee.

What do you think?