An American "condo" is a building, usually residential or industrial, that is owned in condominium by multiple parties. I've recently learned that this term isn't used in conversation in Britain or Ireland. Does it still exist as a legal term there? What is the equivalent conversational term?

  • There's no easy way in American English to distinguish between the "house-I-own", the "house-I-live-in-and-rent", and "the-house-I-live-in-and-sort-of-own-in-a-condominium-type-legal-arrangement". All three exist, and for all three you'd say "my house". The only reason people started saying "my condo" in the U.S. was if they said "my apartment", people assumed they were renting, and outside of NYC, they were too snobbish to let that assumption stand. Twenty years ago in New York City, people still said "my apartment" for all three arrangements. I suspect they still do, but I don't really know. – Peter Shor Sep 20 '12 at 20:56
  • An addendum to my previous comment: I suspect realtors are to blame for "condos", because they thought "apartments" were perceived as too down-scale to sell for large sums of money (not necessarily blame for the legal arrangement, that is, but for distinguishing between "condo" and "apartment" in casual conversation). – Peter Shor Sep 20 '12 at 21:06

The two main types of property ownership in Britain are freehold and leasehold. Freehold means that the owner owns the property and the land it stands on. In leasehold arrangements, you buy a lease on a property for a certain number of years, sometimes as much as 999 years. That entitles you to occupy the property and sell the lease, but you don’t own the property the same way as a freeholder does. It’s often found in apartment blocks, where one party owns the land on which the property stands and the occupants of the apartments buy the lease for their own apartments and, usually, pay an annual sum to the individual or company who owns the land and, ultimately, all the properties.

  • In a leasehold, who owns the infrastructure of the building? Who has maintenance responsibility? – bib Sep 20 '12 at 20:35
  • My understanding is that under Scottish law (which is fundamentally different from English law), you can have the freehold on a flat within a block - which then causes problems when the building burns down and many different people own blocks of space! – neil Sep 20 '12 at 20:37
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    @bib; there is always a freeholder. Often this is a company, jointly owned by the leaseholders. The responsibilities (and fees) vary; they are specified in your lease. – TimLymington Sep 20 '12 at 20:43
  • @bib I believe it's the owner of the land for both, but we're moving into legal territory, on which I am not qualified to speak. – Barrie England Sep 20 '12 at 20:44
  • Are the sales of the leases by the tenants free market? Do they profit from increased value? Trying to see how close in practical effect this is to condominium. – bib Sep 20 '12 at 20:50

There are two phrases used in England, thought the first is fairly uncommon and the other is very rare.

  • Shared freehold. The owners are leaseholders with long leases, but typically each owns a share of a company which in turns owns the freehold of the property. It is similar in some ways to a US co-op
  • Commonhold. A modern innovation copying some foreign forms of tenure which has turned out not be attractive

Neither have the ease of changing rules or of interfering with changes of ownership seen in US condominium House Owner Associations. So the concept of a US condo would need to be explained to most Britons who have not lived in the USA.


AFAIK it doesn't exist either as a legal term or a conversational term in the UK (I don't know about Ireland, but I suspect the same is true).

I am not aware of a short way of distinguishing between a flat that is rented and one that is owned; or between a block of flats that are rented and a block of flats that are owned.

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