A guide to home insurance for flats

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Flats, apartments, condo, bachelor/crash pad, duplex, loft living space, maisonette, studio… you name it, there are a variety of different terms used to describe the good old-fashioned flat as us Brits prefer to call it.

Whatever moniker you afford it, a flat is typically a self-contained housing unit (a type of residential real estate if you’re American) that occupies only part of a building. Staying with our US cousins for a while longer, think ‘Friends’, and that familiar open-plan urban living space which comprises at least a lounge and kitchen area within the one setting.

Far less glamourous – and for those of you brought up in different televisual times – cast your minds back to The Young Ones perhaps, where once more a flat scenario held sway.

You see flats appear in many guises and every day environs, and not just fictitious ones, and have served the needs for home (or rather, flat) owners and renters since the year dot. Or to be more chronologically precise, around the time of the ancient Romans – where apartment living first appeared, constructed specifically to house what the Romans referred to as their lower and middle classes. The ‘plebs’, in other words.

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Fast forward more than a few centuries however and apartments/flats are today seen as something of a des res, and far removed from those of Roman times.

Flat-living offers high security and are more often than not conveniently-situated, while generally less space (compared to that traditionally offered by a house) translates as lower maintenance.  Flats are also warmer in the winter – courtesy of properties above, below and possibly to your left and right side insulating your property very snuggly, and utility bills tend to be less.

Obvious down-sides are of course they may be more susceptible to damage from burst pipes from the flat above you, noisy neighbours up close and too personal, communal areas and not having a green space to call your own. But none of this is important right now if you’re one of the 17% of the UK populace who happily resides in a flat. And maybe one of the underlying, overlying facts that apartment-dwellers are cock-a-hoop is due to them not always having to arrange one of the primary home insurance product policies that all householders/renters are strongly advised to from the outset.

Convention dictates that along with home contents insurance it’s also wise to take out a buildings insurance plan to accompany it and to ultimately cover all angles/eventualities. But the accepted order and general home insurance landscape is a little different if you reside in a flat. Yes, you still need home contents cover, yet in many instances you can side-step the need for buildings insurance. Although it’s imperative that you always review your own personal situation closely before jumping to any conclusions on this score. You see, a lot of people living in flats are leaseholders, so it’s the responsibility of the landlord to insure their bricks and mortar, not the tenant.

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Having said that in recent times an increasing number of leaseholders have joined financially-collaborative forces with cohabiters of larger shared properties.

This means they can purchase a share of that freehold; subsequently granting them a greater control over the property.

Naturally if and when this situation does occur the responsibility of arranging buildings insurance is then passed back to the flat-dweller.

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They can then sort it out individually or alternatively club together with (very near) neighbours with a view to having a block policy underwritten by a buildings insurance provider.

This equal distribution when it comes to buildings insurance makes a deal of sense on a variety of important fronts and serves a common interest for all involved.

All flat leaseholders or freeholders should be concerned with the structural upkeep and condition of the building in which they reside, irrespective of the type of living arrangements their current lifestyle demands. Just imagine how a damaged roof for example could result in water leaking through an entire building, affecting all individual properties within. A similar drama would play out should sewage and/or water pipes crack and burst at any juncture, which has the potential to impact on every resident/occupant.

Leaseholders may avoid buildings insurance premiums, but often pay indirectly via service charges

For all intents and purposes there are predominantly two ways you can own a flat here in the UK, either leasehold or freehold.

As we’ve previously implied, if you are the leaseholder then you won’t (necessarily) be accountable for the provision of the buildings aspect of your home insurance policy, as this responsibility lies with the freeholder/landlord. The freeholder of the building in which your property is located is legally bound to furnish you with evidence of this transaction having had taken place and be on-going, while if you’re in the throes of arranging a mortgage for a flat then your provider will stipulate that they’re privy to official confirmation of this being in place prior to ratifying a mortgage in your name.

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Often the buildings insurance element will be taken care of by the property management company, with individual flat owners within the overall construct paying for it as a pre-agreed part and parcel forming the sum parts of a service charge. On other occasions it will be arranged directly by the landlord. As with everything else, always pore over the policy documentation to ascertain that the terms meet with your own requirements and expectations, as opposed to relying on the mortgage provider to solely run the rule over it.

To those not in the loop, the leasehold ownership of a flat in theory pertains to everything found within the four walls of the dwelling, comprising floorboards and plaster to walls and ceiling, however stops some way short of including either external or structural walls, which falls under the remit of the freeholder or landlord.

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They themselves are ultimately responsible for the maintenance and any subsequent repairs to the building of which your flat forms an integral part of, although in reality you’ll probably end up contributing indirectly towards it financially, in as much as the freeholder costs being recoverable via the service charges which we mentioned earlier.

Moving on to the second pivotal arm of any home insurance product, and home contents policies put the insurance ball very much back into your court. Indeed, things are far clearer when going about insuring your personal possessions, whether you own a leasehold flat, rent one or even share one.

Essentially you should never lose sight of the fact that the buck always stops with the individual when discussing home content insurance policies, and the emphasis is entirely on you to purchase the right package of household cover so as to protect your belongings against the threats posed by loss, theft, fire and/or accidental damage to your personal property.

Possible problems may arise for those of you living, or planning on living, in what’s known as a flat-sharing situation. This routinely means the cohabiting with others under the one immediate roof, and whist once more the preserve of the student demographic (a great way of sharing costs and overheads) it’s nowadays considered a workable solution to the high costs associated with living.

Subsequently more and more people from different walks of life, ages and social backgrounds are living together so as to make funds stretch that much further. However home insurance providers aren’t always that keen on underwriting cover if and when this is the case, and just because you happen to trust your mates/work colleagues/whoever you choose to share a flat with, doesn’t mean that an insurer will.

Aside from this many insurers are aware that an old tenant of a certain property might still have access thanks to keys, while shared accommodation also tends to be higher on burglar’s hit-lists.

Home contents insurers who do go as far as to offer appropriate cover in this situation may only extend it’s legal-compliant reach to recompense the policyholder if there is circumstantial evidence of forced entry in the event of a loss of possessions. Hedging their bets in case it turned out that the theft was a result of light-fingered flatmates. All these factors can conspire against the leaseholder and can make arranging insurance that much more difficult.