Can I get broadband in my flat?

Monday, 13 August, 2018

Owning a house or bungalow gives you complete control over everything that happens within your property’s boundaries.

Unfortunately, flats are rather more complicated.

Because external land is communal, and title deeds vary from one development to the next, it may be hard to determine which parts of a building are legally yours to alter.

Many flatted developments won’t permit satellite dishes being erected, while Sky subcontract apartment block installations to local companies rather than doing it themselves.

Similar issues often arise when installing a new or second phone line, cable services, and so on.

And horror stories occasionally emerge about new-build apartment blocks being offline for months at a time, due to technical issues in connecting the building to Openreach’s network.

Below, we consider ways to obtain broadband in flats, whether you’re an owner-occupier or a tenant…

Broadband in flats you own

Although ownership doesn’t automatically enable you to sling an Openreach line into the living room from the nearest telegraph pole, it generally expedites the process.

Your ability to install a line should be outlined in the title deeds, or in the flat’s freehold/leasehold agreement. Some leasehold contracts only allow drilling through external walls once the freeholder grants written permission.

(Uniquely among the home nations, every property in Scotland is sold as freehold).

Broadband providers often charge extra for what’s known as a non-standard setup in flatted dwellings.

Speaking to neighbours may highlight additional costs or known problems, potentially helping engineers to overcome challenges once they arrive on-site.

It’s surprising how frequently installation teams are baffled by issues like finding the internal distribution point, where connections split into individual properties (often in an attic space).

Assuming an active phone line has a working phone socket in at least one room, most of the big broadband providers ought to get new customers online within a couple of weeks.

Add another week onto this timescale if a phone line needs installing, with one exception.

Because they don’t require Openreach’s assistance, a Virgin Media should still get a line up and running inside a fortnight.

Broadband in flats you rent

Few scenarios are more complicated than trying to get broadband in flats where the landlord is only a leaseholder.

The sheer number of people potentially involved in approving any modification to rented leasehold flats is daunting – and communications often break down between different parties.

Some flats have broadband provided as part of the rental agreement, though packages and speeds may not be to your liking.

If there’s no broadband provided, check the tenancy agreement to see whether permission is needed for structural work like connecting to Virgin Media cabling in the street outside.

If there’s already a working phone line in situ, you should have freedom to select any broadband provider.

However, if previous tenants were disconnected due to non-payment, it’s incumbent on you to cover reconnection charges – effectively paying for other people’s mistakes.

It may be beneficial to adopt a rolling 30-day broadband contract if you have less than a year of a tenancy agreement left – fixed-term contracts are always for 12 months or longer.

Rolling broadband contracts incur higher upfront fees, but they provide valuable flexibility since hardware is fully portable to another property – phone line permitting, of course.

Going mobile

There is an alternative to using landline or cable-based broadband in apartment buildings.

The UK’s big four mobile networks (O2, Vodafone, EE and Three) all sell mobile broadband dongles.

These are either plug-in USB sticks designed to work on computers and laptops, or compact WiFi hubs for wireless devices such as tablets.

Mobile dongles harness the network operator’s 4G coverage to deliver broadband services which are variable in speed (and relatively expensive), but completely portable and free of cables or any hardwiring.

Data is sold in gigabyte bundles, and can be topped up even when every last ounce of bandwidth has been consumed.

As such, a mobile dongle might represent the best option when it comes to broadband in flats, since it negates any requirement for a landline – working or otherwise.

Though mobile broadband is great for limited activities like social media and online shopping, it struggles badly with data-intensive services such as streaming.

Netflix addicts and YouTube vloggers will probably need landline or cable-based broadband after all.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!