Apartment vs. flat — differences by locale
The terms “apartment” and “flat” are used so interchangeably these days that it can be difficult to determine exactly what each of them mean. To add another layer of complication, the terms are used differently depending on the region.
“Flat” is a term that’s used most commonly in the U.K., so when it’s used in the U.S., it can bring about some confusion for American renters. In British English, a flat is what an American would understand as an “apartment.”
British renters will likely refer to any single residence in a building with other such residences as a flat. To the British renter, a flat can have any number of rooms.
But when American renters use the term flat, it usually carries a different implication. Though rare, in the U.S., an apartment that has several suites that share communal spaces is sometimes called a flat.
Apartment vs. flat — differences in luxury
While largely a nuance, there are some difference in implication between an apartment and a flat regarding the level of luxury of each.
In the U.K., the term “apartment” is often used to describe an upscale, posh flat. “Apartments” in the U.K. are often luxury, effiency-type second apartments or serve as a pied-a-terre – a secondary or temporary type of housing.
In the same way, American renters might have a different conception of a unit referred to as a “flat.” Typically, if a residence is referred to as a flat in the U.S., it can be inferred that the apartment is upscale or more luxurious.
Finding an apartment or flat
Finding the perfect unit to call home is not easy but the whole process can be complicated with the ambiguity of rental terms like apartment and flat.
In America, one appropriate time when you might use the word flat is if you’re looking for a multiple suite-based apartment. This type of apartment is uncommon, however, with the exception of college campuses.
There are many student-focused apartments that have a number of “mini apartments” that all share common living and cooking spaces. Some of these apartments might have individual bathrooms and some may have one or two shared bathrooms. Regardless, using the term “flat” in your hunt for this specific type of apartment might bring you more relevant results.
You might also use the term “flat” as an American renter to specify that you’re looking for single-floor rentals. Some apartment rentals may have a second floor or loft, and for many, climbing stairs is inaccessible. Using the term “flat” can be very beneficial in this context.