When you are on the hunt for a new place to live, you’ll come across a variety of listings from houses, townhouses, condos and apartments. It’s easy to differentiate a house or townhouse from smaller units like apartments, but what's the difference between a condo vs an apartment?
These units may feel similar, but there are major differences between the two that are important to understand before deciding on which one to rent. Make sure you understand the differences between a condo and an apartment so that you can decide which one best fits you and your preferred lifestyle.
What is a condo?
A condominium, (also known as a condo) is a private residential unit located in a building or community that is rented out to tenants. The unit itself is privately owned by an individual who becomes the landlord of that property. The owner of the condo has full say as to who is approved to rent their unit, so renting a condo is more of a personal process whereas renting an apartment a tenant may have to go through a leasing office or property management company.
What is an apartment?
An apartment is a rental unit that is owned by a property management company, located in a residential building or complex. All of the units are the same, the owner is the same, and the tenants all follow the same guidelines for renting a unit in the complex.
When you rent an apartment, you and all of the other tenants in that apartment complex reports to the property manager, who can typically be found in the leasing office with employed leasing agents.
The difference between a condo and an apartment
You might not be able to tell whether you're looking at a condo or apartment from the space itself. The differences between the two are more subtle, so you have to look beyond the unit for rent. The key indicators to help establish whether you've got an apartment or a condo on your shortlist of ideal rentals include:
Each of these elements can get handled differently between apartments and condos, so they'll help you know for certain what type of unit you're renting.
1. Unit ownership
Since both condos and apartments are considered shared properties, it’s easy to get the two mixed up. However, the best way to distinguish the difference between condos and apartments is the difference in ownership.
Within a condominium building, each unit has a separate owner. Unlike apartments, the owners don't manage the building, it's usually up to a Homeowner's Association (HOA). Condos are purchased just like a free-standing house. If you rent a condo, there's even a chance the owner of your unit could live next door.
Apartment ownership typically means one entity owns an entire building. You can't purchase individual units separately, but each can have a separate renter. Because it's usually a corporation that owns an apartment building, a hired management company takes care of the day-to-day responsibilities. For that reason, you may not even meet the owner of your apartment, but rather only talk to a property manager.
When signing a lease, you’ll always encounter fees. However, these fees differ between condos and apartments. Your property owner should make you aware of the fees upfront, but it’s always important to ask if you’re uncertain about how much money to bring as you sign your lease.
There's no variable when paying rent in a condo. Just like with an apartment, what's set in your lease is your rent. However, property owners decide on the cost of renting their condo, which means the dollar amount can differ between units.
Some owners include HOA fees and utilities as part of the rent for a flat fee, so you'll pay once per month for all the basics. Utilities will average out in a condo to about the same as in an apartment. HOA fees can vary, but, “some studies suggest that you can expect to pay between $200 and $300," per month says Javier Simon, CEPF® from Smartasset.
Rent for an apartment is almost always a fixed amount for the extent of the lease. Most increases, if they're going to happen, occur when it's time to renew, although, with enough notice, it's legal for your rent to go up mid-lease. Some apartments offer month-to-month or short-term leases, but the agreements are usually for a year.
Apartment rent often depends on the market rate and unit availability. It's also a good rule of thumb to factor in a few extra costs when calculating what rent you can afford. Some apartments will require you to have renters insurance, which is a minimal, extra cost.
Utilities are also often not included in your rent. The cost-per-month for these will vary by season. Here are what the monthly averages across the U.S. look like:
3. Rules and regulations
Rules and regulations are another big difference between condos and apartments. These rules should be established in your lease, but here’s a quick overview of the major differences.
Aside from guidelines set by the HOA for common areas outside of the units, restrictions within condos may vary. Owners have the ability to set their own regulations and could have some unique requests. Make sure to ask about the “house rules" before signing a lease.
Many of the rules set by the HOA impact the owner directly and not necessarily the renter. They can include stipulations for paying fees, which help cover maintenance for common areas and the building exterior. Some of this could trickle down to you as a renter, but most likely won't.
In an apartment building, rules are typically set out in your lease. It's then up to the property management company to enforce them. The same rules apply to all the tenants. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the most basic responsibilities include:
- Following the rules and guidelines of your lease
- Paying rent on time
- Maintaining noise levels that won't cause a disturbance
- Keeping your apartment reasonably clean, especially around the entrances to the unit
- Disposing of garbage and waste properly
There may be additional rules to follow, particularly if you live in a pet-friendly building, but assume basic regulations like these will be strictly enforced.
Condo vs. apartment amenities are pretty much the same. The amenities vary based on how nice the building is when it was constructed. However, there are slight differences you may want to consider.
Inside the condo unit is where amenities will differ the most. The features here are sometimes more unique and upscale with things like granite countertops, hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings. This is because quality amenities can create higher property value for the owners.
According to Updater, washers and dryers, high-end kitchen appliances and hardwood floors are the most common upgrades owners prioritize. And, since each condo is custom to what the owner wants, you may see some upgrades in one unit, but not in another, if looking at multiple places in the same condo building.
Units in apartment complexes have pretty standard features that are the same across the community. You may have options for standard or upgraded appliances if the property owner is investing in updates within units, but that's not always the case. In the building itself, apartment amenities can include any of the following:
- Free parking
- On-site laundry
- Community room available to rent for events
- Business office
- Car wash
Any conveniences that make a property more appealing fall into this category, and can help an apartment building stand out. The more luxurious the apartment, the wider the range of available niceties.
When it comes to maintenance, the biggest factor is how long it takes to get your issue handled. That all depends on who is managing the unit which is different for condos and apartments.
In a condo, you or the property owner are responsible for maintenance in the unit. This could mean more out-of-pocket costs for you in the long run. It's important to discuss who handles what and get these terms in writing as part of your lease, before you sign.
In most cases, if you have issues with your condo rental, you have to contact the owner. This could mean leaving a message or even having to call a few times before you get any help. Not all owners are available at your convenience. This back-and-forth could mean longer wait times for completed repairs, as well.
Any issues related to the building itself, meaning common areas, should get reported to the HOA. It's their responsibility to handle those types of repairs.
Free maintenance is a perk of renting an apartment. Some complexes offer services that let you submit work orders online and have 24-hour, on-call emergency maintenance so you can still get service after hours. Issues are usually resolved in a timely manner and can even get fixed when you're not home.
Not only do you save money in not having to pay for repairs, but you get to keep all the time you'd normally have to spend waiting for a repair person to come and address the issue.
For issues in common areas, maintenance requests are often handled the same way. You'd submit a request, should you notice something, and apartment maintenance would handle the repair. This is not something you have to do, though. Part of a property manager's job is to maintain the quality of common areas in the apartment building.
Is a condo better than an apartment?
Deciphering whether you should rent a condo vs apartment all depends on what you are looking for. There's not always a clear-cut winner, so it's best to understand what each of these differences means for you, where potential pain points can arise and if it’s the right fit for you and your lifestyle.
Who's renting a condo best for?
In short, condos are great choices for those who value having a single landlord rather than a big property management company. This means getting more direct attention when something goes wrong as well as a greater willingness to compromise when it comes to finalizing a rental agreement.
Who’s renting an apartment best for?
Briefly, renting an apartment is a great choice for those who value having a fixed cost in rent as well as on-site maintenance (meaning quick fixes) when something goes wrong. There are also no HOA fees to worry about when renting an apartment which can sometimes add up.
Deciding between a condo vs apartment
Knowing the differences between renting a condo and renting an apartment can help you decide which type of living situation suits your lifestyle better. If you are looking for a new rental, Rent.com is dedicated to helping you find the right home for you. No matter your preferences or lifestyle, we will help you find the perfect place to call home.