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An apartment (in American and Canadian English) or a flat (in British English) is a self-contained housing unit (a type of residential real estate) that occupies only part of a building, correctly, on a single level without a stair. Such a building may be called an apartment building, apartment complex, flat complex, block of flats, tower block, high-rise or, occasionally mansion block (in British English), especially if it consists of many apartments for rent. In Scotland it is called a block of flats or, if it's a traditional sandstone building, a tenement, which has a pejorative connotation elsewhere. Apartments may be owned by an owner/occupier, by leasehold tenure or rented by tenants (two types of housing tenure).
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Types and characteristics
- 3 Property classes
- 4 History
- 5 Advantages
- 6 Disadvantages
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The term apartment is favoured in North America (although flat is used in the case of a unit which is part of a house containing two or three units, typically one to a floor). In the UK, the term apartment is more usual in professional real estate and architectural circles where otherwise the term flat is commonly, but not exclusively, for an apartment without a stair (hence a 'flat' apartment). Technically multi-storey apartments are referred to as 'duplex' (or 'triplex') indicating the number of floors within the property. Usage generally follows the British in Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong and most Commonwealth nations.
In Malaysian English, flat often denotes a housing block of lesser quality meant for lower-income groups, while apartment is more generic and may also include luxury condominiums. This usage has also been appearing in British English where apartment is used by developers to denote expensive 'flats' in exclusive and expensive residential areas in, for example, parts of London such as Belgravia and Hampstead.
In Australian English, the term flat was traditionally used, but the term apartment is also frequently used, as is "unit", short for "home unit".
Tenement law refers to the feudal basis of permanent property such as land or rents. It may be found combined as in "Messuage or Tenement" to encompass all the land, buildings and other assets of a property.
In the United States, some apartment-dwellers own their own apartments, either as co-ops, in which the residents own shares of a corporation that owns the building or development; or in condominiums, whose residents own their apartments and share ownership of the public spaces. Most apartments are in buildings designed for the purpose, but large older houses are sometimes divided into apartments. The word apartment denotes a residential unit or section in a building. In some locations, particularly the United States, the word connotes a rental unit owned by the building owner, and is not typically used for a condominium.
In the England and Wales, some flat owners own shares in the company that owns the freehold of the building as well as holding the flat under a lease. This is commonly known as a "share of freehold" flat. The freehold company has the right to collect annual ground rents from each of the flat owners in the building. The freeholder can also develop or sell the building, subject to the usual planning and restrictions that might apply. This does not happen in Scotland, where long leasehold of residential property was formerly unusual, and is now not possible.
In some countries the word "unit" is a more general term referring to both apartments and rental business suites. The word 'unit' is generally used only in the context of a specific building; e.g., "This building has three units" or "I'm going to rent a unit in this building", but not "I'm going to rent a unit somewhere". In Australia, a 'unit' refers to flats, apartments or even semi-detached houses. Some buildings can be characterized as 'mixed use buildings', meaning part of the building is for commercial, business, or office use, usually on the first floor or first couple of floors, and there are one or more apartments in the rest of the building, usually on the upper floors.
Types and characteristics
In some parts of the world, the word apartment refers to a new purpose-built self-contained residential unit in a building, whereas the word flat means a converted self-contained unit in an older building. An industrial, warehouse, or commercial space converted to an apartment is commonly called a loft, although some modern lofts are built by design. An apartment consisting of the top floor of a high-rise apartment building can be called a penthouse.
The smallest self-contained apartments are referred to as studio, efficiency or bachelor apartments in the US, or studio flat in the UK. These usually consist of a large single main room which acts as the living room, dining room and bedroom combined and usually also includes kitchen facilities, with a separate smaller bathroom. A bedsit is a UK variant on single room accommodation which involves bathroom facilities shared with other bedsits. In Korea, the term one room (wonroom) refers to a studio apartment.
Moving up from these are one-bedroom apartments, in which a bedroom is separate from the rest of the apartment. Then there are two-bedroom, three-bedroom, etc. apartments (apartments with more than three bedrooms are rare). Small apartments often have only one entrance.
Large apartments often have two entrances, perhaps a door in the front and another in the back. Depending on the building design, the entrance doors may be directly to the outside or to a common area inside, such as a hallway.
The term garden apartment is variously defined, following regional practices.
In some locales, a garden apartment complex consists of magnet rise apartment buildings built with landscaped grounds surrounding them. The apartment buildings are often arranged around courtyards that are open at one end. Such a garden apartment shares some characteristics of a townhouse: each apartment has its own building entrance, or shares that entrance via a staircase and lobby that adjoins other units immediately above and/or below it. Unlike a townhouse, each apartment occupies only one level. Such garden apartment buildings are almost never more than three stories high, since they typically don't have elevators/lifts. However, the first "garden apartment" buildings in New York, USA, built in the early 1900s, were constructed five stories high. Some garden apartment buildings place a one-car garage under each apartment. The interior grounds are often landscaped.
In other locales, a garden apartment is a unit built at or below grade or at ground level. The implication is that there is a view or direct access to a garden from the apartment, but this is not necessarily the case.
In most West Coast cities in the United States, due to the need for resisting earthquakes at a low building cost, these low-rise apartments are mostly built of wooden frames with thin plaster-board based exterior and interior dry walls, despite sometimes being on as many as three or four levels.
When part of a house is converted for the ostensible use of a landlord's family member, the unit may be known as an in-law apartment or granny flat, though these (sometimes illegally) created units are often occupied by ordinary renters rather than family members. In Canada these suites are commonly located in the basements of houses and are therefore normally called basement suites or "mother-in-law suites".
Maisonette (from the French maisonnette, meaning "little house") typically refers to larger apartments spreading across two or more floors of an apartment building connected by staircases within the maisonette.
In the UK, the term "maisonette" may be used to distinguish dwellings which have their own entrance independent from the rest of a multi-storey block, and are located above a shop or other retail establishment. This is different from flats, which are usually reached through shared entrance doors, stairs or corridors. This definition of maisonette includes smaller maisonettes occupying a single floor of a block, including designs also known as cottage flats and Tyneside flats.
In Milwaukee vernacular architecture, a Polish flat is an existing small house or cottage that has been lifted up to accommodate the creation of a new basement floor housing a separate apartment, then set down again; thus becoming a modest two-story flat.
Most apartments are on one level, which is why they are sometimes referred to as a "flat". An apartment on more than one level with its own internal staircase is often referred to as a "Duplex" - many penthouses are designed along these lines. The use of the term is derived from converting two separate units into one by connecting them with an internal private stair. Two story units in new construction are also sometimes referred to as "townhouses". Otherwise, "duplex" refers to two separate units with a common demising wall or floor-ceiling assembly. Groups of more than two units have corresponding names (Triplex, etc.).
This type of apartment developed in North America during the middle of the 20th century. The term initially described a living space created within a former industrial building, usually 19th century. These large apartments found favour with artists and musicians wanting accommodation in large cities (New York for example) and is related to unused buildings in the decaying parts of such cities being occupied illegally by people Squatting. These Loft apartments were usually located in former highrise warehouses and factories left vacant after town planning rules and economic conditions in the mid 20th century changed. The resulting apartments created a new bohemian lifestyle and are arranged in a completely different way from most urban living spaces, often including workshops and art studio spaces. As the supply of old buildings of a suitable nature has dried up developers have responded by constructing new buildings in the same aesthetic with varying degrees of success.
In Russia, a communal apartment («коммуналка») is a room with a shared kitchen and bath. A typical arrangement is a cluster of five or so room-apartments with a common kitchen and bathroom and separate front doors, occupying a floor in a pre-Revolutionary mansion. Traditionally a room is owned by the government and assigned to a family on a semi-permanent basis.
A "serviced apartment" is any size space for residential living which includes regular maid and cleaning services provided by the rental agent. Serviced apartments or serviced flats developed in the early part of the 20th century and were briefly fashionable in the 1920s and 30s. They are intended to combine the best features of luxury and self-contained apartments, often being an adjunct of a hotel. Like guests semi-permanently installed in a luxury hotel, residents could enjoy the additional facilities such as house keeping, laundry, catering and other services if and when desired.
A feature of these apartment blocks was quite glamorous interiors with lavish bathrooms but no kitchen or laundry spaces in each flat. This style of living became very fashionable as many upper-class people found they could not afford as many live-in staff after the First War and revelled in a "lock-up and leave" life style that serviced apartment hotels supplied. Some buildings have been subsequently renovated with standard facilities in each apartment, but serviced apartment hotel complexes continue to be constructed. Recently a number of hotels have supplemented their traditional business model with serviced apartment wings, creating privately owned areas within their buildings - either freehold or leasehold.
Apartments may be available for rent furnished, with furniture, or unfurnished into which a tenant moves in with their own furniture. Serviced apartments, intended to be convenient for shorter stays, include soft furnishings and kitchen utensils, and maid service.
Laundry facilities may be found in a common area accessible to all the tenants in the building, or each apartment may have its own facilities. Depending on when the building was built and its design, utilities such as water, heating, and electricity may be common for all the apartments in the building or separate for each apartment and billed separately to each tenant. (Many areas in the US have ruled it illegal to split a water bill among all the tenants, especially if a pool is on the premises.) Outlets for connection to telephones are typically included in apartments. Telephone service is optional and is almost always billed separately from the rent payments. Cable television and similar amenities also cost extra. Parking space(s), air conditioner, and extra storage space may or may not be included with an apartment. Rental leases often limit the maximum number of people who can reside in each apartment.
On or around the ground floor of the apartment building, a series of mailboxes are typically kept in a location accessible to the public and, thus, to the mail carrier too. Every unit typically gets its own mailbox with individual keys to it. Some very large apartment buildings with a full-time staff may take mail from the mailman and provide mail-sorting service. Near the mailboxes or some other location accessible by outsiders, there may be a buzzer (equivalent to a doorbell) for each individual unit. In smaller apartment buildings such as two- or three-flats, or even four-flats, rubbish is often disposed of in trash containers similar to those used at houses. In larger buildings, rubbish is often collected in a common trash bin or dumpster. For cleanliness or minimizing noise, many lessors will place restrictions on tenants regarding smoking or keeping pets in an apartment.
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In the United States, properties are typically put into one of four property classes. Each "class" of properties has a letter grade. These grades are used to help investors and real estate brokers speak a common language so they can understand a property's characteristics and condition quickly. They are as follows:
Class A properties are luxury units. They are usually less than 10 years old and are often new, upscale apartment buildings. Average rents are high, and they are generally located in desirable geographic areas. White-collar workers live in them and are usually renters by choice.
Class B properties can be 10 to 25 years old. They are generally well maintained and have a middle class tenant base of both white and blue-collar workers. Some are renters by choice, and others by necessity.
Class C properties were built within the last 30 to 40 years. They generally have blue-collar and low- to moderate-income tenants, and the rents are below market. This is where you'll find many tenants that are renters "for life". On the other hand, some of their tenants are just starting out and are likely to work their way up the rental scale as they get better jobs.
Class D properties house many Section 8 (government-subsidized) tenants. They are generally located in lower socioeconomic areas.
In the Classic Period Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, apartments were not only the standard means of housing the city's population of over 200,000 inhabitants, but show a remarkably even wealth distribution for the entire city, even by contemporary standards. Furthermore, the apartments were inhabited by the general populace as a whole, in contrast to other Pre-Modern socieites, where apartments were limited to housing the lower class members of the society, as with the somewhat contemporary Roman insulae.
In ancient Rome, the insulae (singular insula) were large apartment buildings where the lower and middle classes of Romans (the plebs) dwelled. The floor at ground level was used for tabernas, shops and businesses, with living space on the higher floors. Insulae in Rome and other imperial cities reached up to ten or more stories, some with more than 200 stairs. Several emperors, beginning with Augustus (r. 30 BC-14 AD), attempted to establish limits of 20–25 m for multi-storey buildings, but met with only limited success. The lower floors were typically occupied by either shops or wealthy families, while the upper stories were rented out to the lower classes. Surviving Oxyrhynchus Papyri indicate that seven-story buildings even existed in provincial towns, such as in 3rd century Hermopolis in Roman Egypt.
During the medieval Arabic-Islamic period, the Egyptian capital of Fustat (Old Cairo) housed many high-rise residential buildings, some seven stories tall that could reportedly accommodate hundreds of people. In the 10th century, Al-Muqaddasi described them as resembling minarets, and stated that the majority of Fustat's population lived in these multi-storey apartment buildings, each one housing over 200 people. In the 11th century, Nasir Khusraw described some of these apartment buildings rising up to fourteen stories, with roof gardens on the top storey complete with ox-drawn water wheels for irrigating them.
By the 16th century, the current Cairo also had high-rise apartment buildings, where the two lower floors were for commercial and storage purposes and the multiple stories above them were rented out to tenants.
The Hakka people in southern China adopted communal living structures designed to be easily defensible, in the form of Weilongwu (围龙屋) and Tulou (土楼). The latter are large, enclosed and fortified earth buildings, between three and five stories high and housing up to eighty families.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the concept of the 'flat' was slow to catch on amongst the British middle classes which generally followed the north European standard of single family houses dating far back into history. Those who lived in 'flats' were assumed to be lower class and somewhat itinerant, renting for example a 'flat above a shop' as part of a lease agreement for a maid or tradesman. In London and most of Britain, everyone who could afford to do so occupied an entire house – even if this was small terraced urban rowhouse - while the working poor continued to rent rooms in often overcrowded properties, with one (or more) families per room.
During the last quarter of the 19th century, as wealth increased, ideas began to change. Both urban growth and the increase in population meant that more imaginative housing concepts were going to be needed if the middle and upper classes were to maintain a pied-à-terre in the capital. The traditional London town house was becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. Especially for bachelors and unmarried women, the idea of renting a modern mansion flat came increasingly into vogue.
The first mansion flats in England were:
- Albert Mansions, which were developed by Philip Flower and designed by James Knowles. These flats were constructed between 1867 and 1870, and were one of the earliest blocks of flats to fill the vacant spaces of the newly-laid out Victoria Street at the end of the 1860s. Today, only a sliver of the building remains, next to the Victoria Palace Theatre. Albert Mansions was really 19 separate "houses", each with a staircase serving one flat per floor. Its tenants included Sir Arthur Sullivan and Lord Alfred Tennyson, whose connections with the developer's family were long-standing. Philip Flower's son, 1st Baron Cyril Flower Battersea, developed most of the mansion blocks on Prince of Wales Drive, London.
- Albert Hall Mansions, designed by Richard Norman Shaw in 1876. Because this was a new type, risks were reduced as much as possible; each block was planned as a separate project, with the building of each part contingent on the successful occupation of every flat in the previous block. The gamble paid off and the scheme was a success.
In London, by the time of the 2011 census, 52% of all homes were flats.
In Scotland, the term "tenement" lacks the pejorative connotations it carries elsewhere, and refers simply to any block of flats sharing a common central staircase and lacking an elevator, particularly those constructed before 1919. Tenements were, and continue to be, inhabited by a wide range of social classes and income groups.
During the 19th century tenements became the predominant type of new housing in Scotland's industrial cities, although they were very common in the Old Town in Edinburgh from the 15th century, where they reached ten or eleven storeys and in one case fourteen storeys. Built of sandstone or granite, Scottish tenements are usually three to five storeys in height, with two to four flats on each floor. (In contrast, industrial cities in England tended to favour "back-to-back" terraces of brick.) Scottish tenements are constructed in terraces, and each entrance within a block is referred to as a close or stair—both referring to the shared passageway to the individual flats. Flights of stairs and landings are generally designated common areas, and residents traditionally took turns to sweep clean the floors, and in Aberdeen in particular, took turns to make use of shared laundry facilities in the "back green" (garden or yard). It is now more common for cleaning of the common ways to be contracted out through a managing agent or "factor".
Tenements today are bought by a wide range of social types, including young professionals, older retirees, and by absentee landlords, often for rental to students after they leave halls of residence managed by their institution. The National Trust for Scotland Tenement House Museum in Glasgow offers an insight into the lifestyle of tenement dwellers.
Many multi-storey tower blocks were built in the UK after the Second World War. A number of these are being demolished and replaced with low-rise buildings or housing estates known in Scotland as housing schemes, often modern interpretations of the tenement.
In Glasgow, where Scotland's highest concentration of tenement dwellings can be found, the urban renewal projects of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s brought an end to the city's slums, which had primarily consisted of older tenements built in the early 19th century in which large extended families would live together in cramped conditions. They were replaced by high-rise blocks that, within a couple of decades, became notorious for crime and poverty. The Glasgow Corporation made many efforts to improve the situation, most successfully with the City Improvement Trust, which cleared the slums of the old town, replacing them with what they thought of as a traditional high street, which remains an imposing townscape. (The City Halls and the Cleland Testimonial were part of this scheme.) National government help was given following World War I when Housing Acts sought to provide "homes fit for heroes". Garden suburb areas, based on English models, such as Knightswood, were set up. These proved too expensive, so a modern tenement, three stories high, slate roofed and built of reconstituted stone, was re-introduced and a slum clearance programme initiated to clear areas such as the Calton and the Garngad.
Post Second World War, more ambitious plans, known as the Bruce Plan, were made for the complete evacuation of slums to modern mid-rise housing developments on the outskirts of the city. However, central government refused to fund the plans, preferring instead to depopulate the city to a series of New Towns. Again, economic considerations meant that many of the planned "New Town" amenities were never built in these areas. These housing estates, known as "schemes", came therefore to be widely regarded as unsuccessful; many, such as Castlemilk, were just dormitories well away from the centre of the city with no amenities, such as shops and public houses ("deserts with windows", as Billy Connolly once put it). High rise living too started off with bright ambition—the Moss Heights, built in the 1950s, are still desirable—but fell prey to later economic pressure. Many of the later tower blocks were poorly designed and cheaply built and their anonymity caused some social problems.
In 1970 a team from Strathclyde University demonstrated that the old tenements had been basically sound, and could be given new life with replumbing providing modern kitchens and bathrooms. The Corporation acted on this principle for the first time in 1973 at the Old Swan Corner, Pollokshaws. Thereafter, Housing Action Areas were set up to renovate so-called slums. Later, privately owned tenements benefited from government help in "stone cleaning", revealing a honey-coloured sandstone behind the presumed "grey" tenemental facades. The policy of tenement demolition is now considered to have been short-sighted, wasteful and largely unsuccessful. Many of Glasgow's worst tenements were refurbished into desirable accommodation in the 1970s and 1980s and the policy of demolition is considered to have destroyed fine examples of a "universally admired architectural" style. The Glasgow Housing Association took ownership of the public housing stock from the city council on 7 March 2003, and has begun a £96 million clearance and demolition programme to clear and demolish many of the high-rise flats.
High-rise apartment buildings were built in the Yemeni city of Shibam in the 16th century. The houses of Shibam are all made out of mud bricks, but about 500 of them are tower houses, which rise 5 to 11 stories high, with each floor having one or two apartments. Shibam has been called "Manhattan of the desert". Some of them were over 100 feet (30 m) high, thus being the tallest mudbrick apartment buildings in the world to this day.
Tenements were also known for their price gouging rent. How the Other Half Lives notes one tenement district:
Blind Man's Alley bear its name for a reason. Until little more than a year ago its dark burrows harbored a colony of blind beggars, tenants of a blind landlord, old Daniel Murphy, whom every child in the ward knows, if he never heard of the President of the United States. "Old Dan" made a big fortune--he told me once four hundred thousand dollars-- out of his alley and the surrounding tenements, only to grow blind himself in extreme old age, sharing in the end the chief hardship of the wretched beings whose lot he had stubbornly refused to better that he might increase his wealth. Even when the Board of Health at last compelled him to repair and clean up the worst of the old buildings, under threat of driving out the tenants and locking the doors behind them, the work was accomplished against the old man's angry protests. He appeared in person before the Board to argue his case, and his argument was characteristic. "I have made my will," he said. "My monument stands waiting for me in Calvary. I stand on the very brink of the grave, blind and helpless, and now (here the pathos of the appeal was swept under in a burst of angry indignation) do you want me to build and get skinned, skinned? These people are not fit to live in a nice house. Let them go where they can, and let my house stand." In spite of the genuine anguish of the appeal, it was downright amusing to find that his anger was provoked less by the anticipated waste of luxury on his tenants than by distrust of his own kind, the builder. He knew intuitively what to expect. The result showed that Mr. Murphy had gauged his tenants correctly.[page needed]
The Dakota (1884) was one of the first luxury apartment buildings in New York City. The majority, however, remained tenements.
Many reformers, such as Upton Sinclair and Jacob Riis, pushed for reforms in tenement dwellings. As a result, in 1901, New York state passed a law called the New York State Tenement House Act to improve the conditions in tenements.
Some significant developments in architectural design of apartment buildings came out of the 1950s and '60s. Among them were groundbreaking designs in the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments (1951), New Century Guild (1961), Marina City (1964) and Lake Point Tower (1968).
Apartment buildings are multi-story buildings where three or more residences are contained within one structure. In more urban areas, apartments close to the downtown area have the benefits of proximity to jobs and/or public transportation. However, prices per square foot are often much higher than in suburban areas.
The distinction between rental apartments and condominiums is that while rental buildings are owned by a single entity and rented out to many, condominiums are owned individually, while their owners still pay a monthly or yearly fee for building upkeep. Condominiums are often leased by their owner as rental apartments. A third alternative, the cooperative apartment building (or "co-op"), acts as a corporation with all of the tenants as shareholders of the building. Tenants in cooperative buildings do not own their apartment, but instead own a proportional number of shares of the entire cooperative. As in condominiums, cooperators pay a monthly fee for building upkeep. Co-ops are common in cities such as New York, and have gained some popularity in other larger urban areas in the U.S.
In the United States, "tenement" is a label usually applied to the less expensive, more basic rental apartment buildings in older sections of large cities. Many of these apartment buildings are "walk-ups" without an elevator, and some have shared bathing facilities, though this is becoming less common. The slang term "dingbat" is used to describe cheap urban apartment buildings from the 1950s and 1960s with unique and often wacky façades to differentiate themselves within a full block of apartments. They are often built on stilts, and with parking underneath.
Apartments were popular in Canada, particularly in urban centres like Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Hamilton, Ontario in the 1950s to 1970s. By the 1980s, many multi-unit buildings were being constructed as condominiums instead of apartments, and both are now very common. In Toronto and Vancouver, high-rise apartments and condominiums have been spread around the city, giving even the major suburbs a skyline. The robustness of the condo markets in Toronto and Vancouver are based on the lack of land availability. The average cap rate in the Greater Toronto Area for Q3 2015 hit its lowest level in the last 30 years. The cap rate in Q3 2015 stood at 3.75 per cent, down from 4.2 per cent in Q2 2015 and down almost 50 per cent from the 6.3 per cent posted in Q3 2010.
In Australia, the terms "unit", "flat" and "apartment" are largely used interchangeably. Newer high-rise buildings are more often marketed as "apartments", as the term "flats" carries colloquial connotations. The term condominium or condo is rarely used in Australia despite attempts by developers to market it. A high-rise apartment building is commonly referred to as a residential tower, apartment tower, or block of flats in Australia.
Apartment buildings in Australia are typically managed by a body corporate or "owners corporation" in which owners pay a monthly fee to provide for common maintenance and help cover future repair. Many apartments are owned through strata title. Due to legislation, Australian banks will either apply loan to value ratios of over 70% for strata titles of less than 50 square metres, the big four Australian banks will not loan at all for strata titles of less than 30 square metres. These are usually classified as studio apartments or student accommodation. Australian legislation enforces a minimum 2.4m floor-ceiling height which differentiates apartment buildings from office buildings.
In Australia, apartment living is a popular lifestyle choice for DINKY, yuppies, university students and more recently empty nesters, however, rising land values in the big cities in recent years has seen an increase in families living in apartments. In Melbourne and Sydney apartment living is sometimes not a matter of choice for the many socially disadvantaged people who often end up in public housing towers.
Australia has a relatively recent history in apartment buildings. Terrace houses were the early response to density development, though the majority of Australians lived in fully detached houses. Apartments of any kind were legislated against in the Parliament of Queensland as part of the Undue Subdivision of Land Prevention Act 1885.
The earliest apartment buildings were in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne as the response to fast rising land values. Melbourne Mansions on Collins Street, Melbourne (now demolished), built in 1906 for mostly wealthy residents is believed by many to be the earliest. Today the oldest surviving self-contained apartment buildings are in the St Kilda area including the Fawkner Mansions (1910), Majestic Mansions (1912 as a boarding house) and the Canterbury (1914 - the oldest surviving buildings contained flats). Kingsclere, built in 1912 is believed to be the earliest apartment building in Sydney and still survives.
During the interwar years, apartment building continued in inner Melbourne (particularly in areas such as St Kilda and South Yarra), Sydney (particularly in areas such as Potts Point, Darlinghust and Kings Cross) and in Brisbane (in areas such as New Farm, Fortitude Valley and Spring Hill).
Post World War II, with the Australian Dream apartment buildings went out of vogue and flats were seen as accommodation only for the poor. Walk-up "flats" (without a lift) of two to three storeys however were common in the middle suburbs of cities for lower income groups.
The main exceptions were Sydney and the Gold Coast, Queensland where apartment development continued for more than half a century. In Sydney a limited geography and highly sought after waterfront views (Sydney Harbour and beaches such as Bondi) made apartment living socially acceptable. While on the Gold Coast views of the ocean, proximity to the beach and a large tourist population made apartments a popular choice. Since the 1960s, these cities maintained much higher population densities than the rest of Australia through the acceptance of apartment buildings.
In other cities apartment building was almost solely restricted to public housing. Public housing in Australia was common in the larger cities, particularly in Melbourne (by the Housing Commission of Victoria) where a huge number of hi-rise housing commission flats were built between the 1950s and 1970s by successive governments as part of an urban renewal program. Areas affected included Fitzroy, Flemington, Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond and Prahran. Similar projects were run in Sydney's lower socio economic areas like Redfern.
In Melbourne in the 1990s a trend began for apartment buildings without the requirement of spectacular views. As a continuation of the gentrification of the inner city, a fashion became New York "loft" style apartments and a large stock of old warehouses and old abandoned office buildings in and around the CBD became the target of developers. The trend of adaptive reuse extended to conversion of old churches and schools. Similar warehouse conversions and gentrification began in Brisbane suburbs such as Teneriffe, Queensland and Fortitude Valley and in Sydney in areas such as Ultimo. As supply of buildings for conversion ran out, reproduction and post modern style apartments followed. The popularity of these apartments also stimulated a boom in the construction of new hi-rise apartment buildings in inner cities. This was particularly the case in Melbourne which was fuelled by official planning policies (Postcode 3000), making the CBD the fastest growing, population wise in the country. Apartment building in the Melbourne metropolitan area has also escalated with the advent of the Melbourne 2030 planning policy. Urban renewal areas like Docklands, Southbank, St Kilda Road and Port Melbourne are now predominately apartments. There has also been a sharp increase in the amount of student apartment buildings in areas such as Carlton in Melbourne.
Today, residential buildings Eureka Tower and Q1 are the tallest in the country. In many cases, apartments in inner city areas of the major cities can cost much more than much larger houses in the outer suburbs.
There are Australian cities, such as Gold Coast, Queensland, which are inhabited predominately by apartment dwellers.
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Some apartment buildings have high levels of security. For example, to enter a high-security building, a person must validate their smartcard at the main entrance. In some apartments, while at the lift, the smartcard would be used again to be able to press the button for lift access. Finally, the person walks to their apartment and uses their key to unlock the entrance door. This 2- or 3-tier security will, in most cases, prevent home invasions and theft. Some buildings may have a doorman to guard the premises. Many middle- and upper-tier apartments have video phones, whereby residents can see and verify who is at the main entrance before allowing access to the building.
Owning or renting an apartment is also more convenient than owning a house as the general maintenance and landscaping is taken care of by the owner or body corporate. This is particularly the case in regions with climate extremes, such as the long and snowy winters in the Nordic countries of northern Europe and most of Canada where there is much snow clearing work for house residents.
Real estate investment
The total cost for the construction of an apartment is much less than the cost invested in the construction of a single house. When the cost of a single unit in the apartment is compared to a single house of the same dimension, the difference in cost is very large. The cost of land is shared by all the owners of the apartment. But the price at which the flats are sold is not exactly proportional to the difference, but the real estator makes a big share of profits because the price at which the flats are sold are almost equal to the price of the houses in specific areas of the city. In this way apartment construction is an advantage to the real estator.
In Scandinavian countries apartment dwelling and renting through non-profit housing co-operatives is commonplace. Apartment users are allowed to modify the interior of the apartment to suit their wishes. Often the extended families have a shared holiday house in the countryside. The investment in real estate for a family is reduced leading to greater disposable income for quality of life.
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Buildings between 4 and 7 stories have a lower energy footprint per m2 than do high-rises greater than 7 stories . There seems to be a tradeoff with many other variables in a life cycle analysis, which would suggest that 7 stories (around fifty dwelling units per hectare for optimum transport petroleum use (Kenworthy)) is the optimum density in T1 urban areas, the city of Paris being an example (Mehaffy). Buildings not requiring lifts (around 4 floors, though it could be five with a final two storey apartment (maisonette)) are normally more energy efficient. Note, this is dependent on the particular country's accessibility requirements.
High-rise buildings cast a significant shadow over nearby buildings, reducing solar energy harvesting. They also cast shadows over public spaces, reducing their amenity value, and these spaces are a very valuable resource in mid-density cities. Wind turbulence can also be a significant problem at ground level if design provisions are not made. The prevailing cooling breezes in summer can be disrupted for nearby buildings also.
Noise insulation and privacy issues
In most west coast cities in United States, due to the need for resisting earthquakes at a low building cost, low rise apartments, up to 3 to 4 levels, are mostly built of wooden frames with thin plasterboard-based interior dry walls with a poor noise insulation standard. As a result, it is often possible to hear neighbours clearly, sometimes well enough to hear conversations or snoring at night, as dramatized in the movie Office Space by the neighbouring characters talking through their apartment walls directly.
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