There is some confusion over the official definition of a maisonette. Technically speaking, a maisonette is described as an apartment situated over two levels. It has its own access rather than relying on communal stairwells and shared access with other apartments – another feature that marks it out as a maisonette. However, the term is often used to describe any property that is spread over two levels. Such a property may or may not have separate access in this instance.
A maisonette is therefore different to a standard flat or apartment. A traditional flat will always have shared access, i.e. a communal entrance that leads to that flat along with several others, usually over several floors. Strictly speaking, a maisonette does not have this feature, although some people do refer to properties over two levels that do share an entrance as maisonettes. This is where the confusion has occurred over the years.
Some single-level flat-style properties with their own private entrances are also called maisonettes in some situations. It could reasonably be argued that the style of entrance is more indicative of a maisonette than a flat, which would always have shared entrance points.
If you see a listing in an estate agent for a maisonette, it is a good idea to check the presentation of the property. Is it spread over one floor or two? What kind of entrance does it have? The word maisonette may be misused, but the most important thing is to know what you are viewing if you see a property described as such. You’ll want to know whether its features would suit you.