Tuesday, June 08, 2010

What is a Two-Flat?

Recently, I was asked to explain to a client in a different part of the country what a “two flat” was. No, it is not something you might find on your car the next morning after driving over broken glass. And it is not a musical reference (as in sharps and flat notes).

If you Google the term, a Chicago Sun Times definition states: “two-flat / too flat / n. A residential, two-story brick building with a common front entrance and separate residences on each floor. One floor is often reserved, reluctantly, for mother-in-law. Common source of extra income/aggravation for Chicagoans.”

In Chicago, we call residences with two units on one property a two-flat. In most other parts of the country, they are called 2-unit apartment buildings.

Typically, one of the two units is occupied by the owner of the property, and the other unit rented out (or used by a family member, hence the “in-law” apartment term). Often times, they are owned as an investment property, therefore not owner-occupied.

There are many things to consider with this type of property. First and foremost – is zoning allowable for multiple-family residences? Most communities with have zoning codes, and the zoning must allow for multiple-family residences. Occasionally, non-compliance to the zoning code may be “grandfathered” for the property’s type/use. In some areas, particularly once and/or currently depressed areas, lax enforcement of zoning has lead to illegal zoning situations. As a neighborhood goes through the revitalization part of gentrification, the illegal use becomes a grandfathered use.

There are three types of 2-unit residences that I can describe. Vintage 2-flats, Converted 2-flats, and Duplexed residences.  In the spirit of "a picture tells a 1,000 words," I have included some examples below.

VINTAGE TWO-FLAT

One of the most important things to note is that this property was originally designed and built to be a two-unit building, usually one unit above the other. They often have the same exact floor plan, room and bath count, size, and two separate entrances. I saw a lot of these built in Chicago between 1900 and 1940. My grandfather and granduncle built many of these residences on the South Side of Chicago in the early part of the 1900’s.

Note the pictures below shows the steps up to the door, which show two separate entrances – one to the upper level and one to the main level. There is a lower basement level, and this is often called the “garden” apartment, and an illegal 3rd unit in a 2-flat building. Other times, the basement area has the mechanicals (furnace, boiler, hot water heater, etc.) for both units and a storage area and common laundry area. These are very common in older Chicago neighborhoods.  During the 1990's and 2000's, many of these original 2-flat buildings have been converted to condominium units.  This was at a point where the "highest and best use" of the unit changed because there was more demand and more valuable as individual condominium units than there was as an apartment.














































CONVERTED TWO-FLAT

Another type is an older single-family residence that was converted at some point to a two-unit residence. The original use of the property when built 100 years ago was a single family residence, but at some point in the property’s history, the use of the property was converted to an “in-law” apartment, or a “rental” apartment by converting the floorplan, securing a separate entrance, etc. Typically the original first floor was redesigned with bedrooms and a hall bath, and the original second floor with bedrooms reconfigured and adding a living room and a kitchen. Note the properties below, and most have two different front doors entrances – one leading to the main floor, the other to a staircase to the upper level unit.  There could be a common front door, leading to secure doors leading to each unit in the entrance.

As these properties were originally built as a 1-family home, at some point in history, the highest and best use changed, likely because of the change in the neighborhood and/or economic conditions.  Maybe the area was affluent when the properties were built, but change or deterioration in the declining neighborhood caused the "highest and best use" to be as an income producing property.  This was common in established neighborhoods during the Great Depression.

























DUPLEXES

The third type of 2-unit residence is a duplex property, and typically that is a two-family residence on one parcel of land and it is side by side.  There is one tax bill, and the property owner owns both units.  Again, one is often occupied by the owner who rents out the adjoining unit. Sometimes they are mirror image of each other, other times they are not. See examples below. 

These residences were more commonly built in the 1960's and beyond.  Sometimes, these units are deeded separately, with the land split down the middle of the residence, and then we refer to them as a half-duplex.





























A picture tells a 1,000 words.

8 Comments:

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