It’s a little known fact that pretty much all land and property owned in the UK is actually the property of the Crown. Really! But don’t worry, in practical terms, if you own the freehold interest in land or property then for most intents and purposes, you are the ‘owner’ of the property and everything above and below it.
Of course, there are sometimes limitations on even our Freehold ownership. These limitations might take the form of retained rights, such as mineral rights or rights of way (easements) or restrictions, such as positive or negative covenants restricting use or requiring action (such as undertaking maintenance or not using land for specific purposes).
But, if you own the freehold interest, you will own that interest in perpetuity, until you sell it or, if it is mortgaged, the mortgagee repossesses it.
An alternative way to occupy or own an interest in the property is by way of a lease. This can be like a freehold in that you might still enjoy exclusive use of the property and have rights to it. However, leases are time-limited and therefore you will not hold the property into perpetuity. You might also have more restricted rights, such as being required to maintain the property and not allow certain uses, etc. However, you will enjoy specific rights in common law, as a tenant (or lessee).
In some cases, modern statutes have allowed tenants the right to renew their lease on similar terms or even to buy the freehold interest or the freehold interest of the building containing their flat, plus a long lease on their flat.
Of course, a flat can’t be owned freehold in the true sense of the word as this would mean owning the property above and below it, which would mean you also owned flats above and below you, plus any car parking! In order to get over this problem, it’s usual for flats to be sold on long leases of say 99 or 125 years.
In some cases, these leases might even be for say 999 years! These long leases are sometimes referred to as ‘virtual freeholds’. The owner of such a lease might not own the freehold but he does have most of the rights associated with ownership of the freehold, such as the right to exclusive possession and quiet enjoyment. In such circumstances, it is usual for the lessee (the owner of the leasehold interest) to have limited obligations under the lease, other than to perhaps pay ground rent or pay into a sinking fund. Even then, some ground rents are rarely demanded or paid, or could be for something innocuous like one peppercorn per annum.