Flat - Encyclopedia

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FLAT (a modification of O. Eng. flet, an obsolete word of Teutonic origin, meaning the ground beneath the feet), a term commonly used as an adjective, signifying level in surface, level with the ground, and so, figuratively, fallen, dead, inanimate, tasteless, dull; or, by another transference, downright; or, in music, below the true pitch. In a substantival form, the term is used in physical geography for a level tract.

The word is also generally applied by modern usage to a self-contained residence or separate dwelling (in Scots law, the term flatted house is still used), consisting of a suite of rooms which form a portion, usually on a single floor, of a larger building, called the tenement house, the remainder being similarly divided. The approach to it is over a hall, passage and stairway, which are common to all residents in the building, but from which each private flat is divided off by its own outer door (Clode, Tenement Houses and Flats, pp. 1, 2).

There is in England a considerable body of special law applicable to flats. The following points deserve notice: - (i.) The occupants of distinct suites of rooms in a building divided into flats are generally, and subject, of course, to any special terms in their agreements, not lodgers but tenants with exclusive possession of separate dwelling-houses placed one above the other. They are, therefore, liable to distress by the immediate landlord, and each flat is separately rateable, though as a general rule by the contract of tenancy the rates are payable by the landlord. Flats used solely for business purposes are exempt from house tax, by the Customs and Inland Revenue Act 1878 (see Grant, v. Langston, 1900, A.C. 383); and, by the Revenue Act 1903 (s. 11), provision is made for excluding from assessment or for assessing at a low rate buildings used for providing separate dwellings at rents not exceeding 60 a year. It appears that tenants of a flat would not come within the meaning of "lodger" for the purposes of the Lodgers' Goods Protection Act 1871. (ii.) The owner of an upper storey, without any express grant or enjoyment for any given time, has a right to the support of the lower storey (Dalton v. Angus, 1881, 6 A.C. 740, 793). The owner of the lower storey, however, so long as he does nothing actively in the way of withdrawing its support, is not bound to repair, in the absence of a special covenant imposing that obligation upon him. The right of support being an easement in favour of the owner of the upper storey, it is for him to repair. He is in law entitled to enter on the lower storey for the purpose of doing the necessary repairs. It appears, however, that there is an implied obligation by the landlord to the tenants to keep the common stair and the lift or elevator in repair, and, for breach x. 16 of this duty, he will be liable to a third party who, while visiting a tenant in the course of business, is injured by its defective condition (Miller v. Hancock, 1893, 2 Q.B. 177). No such liability would be involved in a mere licence to the tenants to use a part of the building not essential to the enjoyment of their flats. (iii.) In case of the destruction of the flat by fire, the rent abates pro tanto and an apportionment is made; pari ratione, where a flat is totally destroyed, the rent abates altogether (Clode, p. 14); unless the tenant has entered into an express and unqualified agreement to pay rent, when he will remain liable till the expiration of his tenancy. (iv.) Where the agreements for letting the flats in a single building are in common form, an agreement by the lessor not to depart from the kind of building there indicated may be held to be implied. Thus an injunction has been granted to restrain the conversion into a club of a large part of a building, adapted to occupation in residential flats, at the instance of a tenant who held under an agreement in a common form binding the tenants to rules suitable only for residential purposes (Hudson v. Cripps,1896, Ch. 265). (v.) The porter is usually appointed and paid by the landlord, who is liable for his acts while engaged on his general duties; while engaged on any special duty for any tenant the porter is the servant of the latter, who is liable for his conduct within the scope of his employment.

In Scots law the rights and obligations of the lessors and lessees of flats, or - as they are called - "flatted houses," spring partly from the exclusive possession by each lessee of his own flat, partly from the common interest of all in the tenement as a whole. The "law of the tenement" may be thus summed up. The solum on which the flatted house stands, the area in front and the back ground are presumed to belong to the owner of the lowest floor or the owners of each floor severally, subject to the common right of the other proprietors to prevent injury to their flats, especially by depriving them of light. The external walls belong to each owner in so far as they enclose his flat; but the other owners can prevent operations on them which would endanger the security of the building. The roof and uppermost storey belong to the highest owner or owners, but he or they may be compelled to keep them in repair and to refrain from injuring them. The gables are common to the owner of each flat, so far as they bound his property, and to the owner of the adjoining house; but he and the other owners in the building have cross rights of common interest to prevent injury to the stability of the building. The floor and ceiling of each flat are divided in ownership by an ideal line drawn through the middle of the joists; they may be used for ordinary purposes, but may not be weakened or exposed to unusual risk from fire. The common passages and stairs are the common property of all to whose premises they form an access, and the walls which bound them are the common property of those persons and of the owners on their farther side.

In the United States the term "apartment-house" is applied to what in England are called flats. The general law is the same as in England. The French Code Civil provides (Art. 664) that where the different storeys of a house belong to different owners the main walls and roof are at the charge of all the owners, each one in proportion to the value of the storey belonging to him. The proprietor of each storey is responsible for his own flooring. The proprietor of the first storey makes the staircase which leads to it, the proprietor of the second, beginning from where the former ended, makes the staircase leading to his and so on. There are similar provisions in the Civil Codes of Belgium (Art. 664), Quebec (Art. 521), St Lucia (Art. 471).

Authorities.-ENGLISH LAw: Clode, Law of Tenement-Houses and Flats (London, 1889); Daniels, Manual of the Law of Flats (London, 1905). SCOTS LAW: Erskine, Principles of the Law of Scotland (loth ed., Edinburgh, 1903); Bell, Principles of the Law of Scotland (loth ed., Edinburgh, 1899). AMERICAN LAW: Bouvier, Law Dicty. (Boston and London, 1897). FOREIGN LAWS: Burge, Foreign and Colonial Laws (2nd ed., London, 1906). (A. W. R.)

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