Apartment building

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A red brick apartment block in central London, England, on the north bank of the Thames

An apartment building, block of flats or tenement is a multi-unit dwelling made up of several (generally four or more) apartments (US) or flats (UK). Where the building is a high-rise construction, it is termed a tower block in the UK and elsewhere. The term apartment building is used regardless of height in the US.

A two-unit dwelling is known as a duplex (US) or maisonette (UK); a three-unit dwelling is known as a triplex.

Tenement - also refers in law to permanent property such as land or rents. May be found combined as in "Messuage or Tenement" to encompass all the land, buildings and other assets of a property.


[edit] United States and Canada

Tenement building in Manhattan's Lower East Side

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. Condominums are often leased by their owner as rental apartments. A third alternative, the cooperative apartment building (or "co-op"), acts 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.

Apartments were popular in Canada, particularly in urban centres like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal 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.

[edit] History of US tenements

Image:Corvallis apartment development.jpg
An apartment complex under development in Corvallis, Oregon.
A northern European tenement.
The same tenement as above from the front.

The history of tenements in the United States is rather complex.

In the 1840s when heavy flows of immigrants arrived into the country, mostly German and Irish immigrants, the city of New York devised strategies on how to house the heavy flow of immigrants arriving nearly 200,000 a day.[citation needed] In 1839, the first tenement was built housing thousands of poor immigrants. More tenements followed suit after this. Near the 1860s, tenement squares were popping up quite frequently.

Most of the immigrants despised their squalid rooms. One Irish immigrant[citation needed] remembers his experience living in a tenement in the early 1840s:

Nights and Days, we'd sit there sweating through our clothes and listening to the sounds of feet in the hallways, babies crying frantically and the roar of machinery in the area. In the winter times we froze to death. Five of us huddled in a bed to keep warm. We had no water. We constantly had to draw dirty water from the sewer and clean ourselves with it. We had no other alternative.

The tenements were breeding grounds for outlaws, juvenile delinquents and organized crime. Muckraker journalist Jacob Riis writes in How the Other Half Lives:

The New York tough may be ready to kill where his London brother would do little more than scowl; yet, as a general thing he is less repulsively brutal in looks. Here again the reason may be the same: the breed is not so old. A few generations more in the slums, and all that will be changed ..

Tenements were also known for their price gouging rent. How the Other Half Lives notes one tenement district:

Blind Man's Alley bears 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. </blockquote>

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.

More improvements followed. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman passed the Housing Act of 1949 to clean slums and reconstruct housing units for the poor.

[edit] Scotland

Tenement in Edinburgh, Scotland, built in 1882

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. (In Northern England, 'back-to-back' terraces were more common). Scottish tenements are usually three to five stories in height, with two to four flats on each floor. They are sometimes still referred to as closes or closies (a reference to the passageway through which entry is gained). Stairs and landings are generally designated 'common areas', and residents traditionally took in turns to sweep clean the floors, but it is now more common for this to be contracted out through a 'factor'. Tenement flats are the most common form of accommodation for students who have moved out of University Halls (dorms). The communal area inside a tenement is often referred to as "the stair". The phrase "good stair" is often used to refer to a tenement with good relationships between neighbours.

Some tenements in Glasgow were originally built with public houses on the ground floor, one for every 200 people. Many of these pubs have since been converted into housing.

Many multi-storey tower blocks were built in the UK after the Second World War. These are gradually being demolished and replaced with low-rise buildings or housing estates, often modern interpretations of the tenement. In Scotland those that remain are usually called simply 'multis' or 'high flats'.

In contrast to most other parts of the world where the designation "tenement" implies poverty and deprivation, Scotland's remaining tenements are mostly of high quality construction and are now much sought after. In Glasgow, where Scotland's highest concentration of tenement dwellings can be found, the urban renewal projects of the 1950s, 60s and 70s brought an end to the city's slums; slums that consisted of older tenements built in the early 19th century. They were replaced by high-rise blocks that, within a couple of decades, were riddled with crime and poverty. The tenement, it would seem, was more than just an architectural style, but a means to build and galvanise communities.

Today's tenement dwellers are typically young professional people keen to live close to the city centres of Scotland. Most young people living in Scotland's cities will buy a tenement as their first step on the property ladder.

[edit] See also


Apartment building

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