The tiniest spaces in real estate, described as “new-generation boarding houses”, are being reinvented under new Australian government planning policy taking advantage of a general transition to apartment living.

Micro-apartments as small as 20 square metres are less than half the size of a one-bedroom unit, costing around half as much to build but with returns closer to three-quarters, and more than 1,000 private boarding rooms have sprung up in inner Sydney, with student accommodation attracting international groups looking to develop 35,000 bedsits.

Australian house sizes, once the biggest in the world, have fallen 7% since 2008-09, while apartment sizes have dropped 9% since the high point of 2004-05. More than half of new units being built are studio or one-bedroom, but units often feature cleverly-designed foldaway furniture, shared kitchens or lounges and offer co-working offices or serviced offices.

One architect Tone Wheeler of Environa Studio says: “good design means that for a single person or couple it’s akin to a four-star hotel room or a serviced apartment”.

The new boarding house is sparking interest in build-to-rent among developers and making people rethink ownership versus rental long term, and is in line with a trend in serviced apartments and aparthotels for great design, versatile living spaces and communal spaces both for leisure and work activities.

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