While they can feel similar on the outside, look the same on the inside and cost about the same in rent, there are differences.
To help you out, we’re breaking down what sets each apart to make it easier for you to decide which best fits your preferred lifestyle.
The main difference between a condo and an apartment is ownership. This also impacts the management of the property. While condos are usually managed by a Homeowners’ Association (HOA), each individual unit has a separate owner. You have the option to purchase a condo, as you would a house. If you end up renting a condo, your property owner will differ from the unit next door.
The ownership of apartment buildings is completely different. Individual apartment units cannot be purchased separately. Instead, apartment buildings typically have one owner, most likely a corporation, with units leased to individual tenants.
Because of this difference in ownership, apartments are also often managed by a third-party company, and not the building owner. Leasing an apartment often means you work with a management company rather than the property owner.
Ownership also impacts the rules governing a condo and an apartment. While the basic can and can’t dos are often the same, enforcement and management of the rules differ.
For instance, in an apartment, the property management company enforces rules, and those same rules apply to all the units. 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.
Rules can be trickier with a condo. 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.
In some cases, HOAs have restrictions on the number of units designated as rentals. This is something to keep in mind when thinking about purchasing a condo with the intention of renting it.
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 renter’s 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, but according to Joe Roberts from move.org, “people who rent apartments should plan to spend $100-$150 (sometimes more) per month for utilities.” Here are what the monthly averages across the US look like:
If you’re renting a condo, your payments will also be a fixed amount for the rental period unless your agreement states otherwise. Property owners decide on the cost of renting a condo, which means it 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 at about the same as the apartment numbers above. 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.
Units in apartment complexes have pretty standard features that are the same across the community. Sometimes there are different floor plans available and options for standard or upgraded appliances if the property owner is investing in updates for within units. 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 be what makes an apartment building stand out, especially in newer apartment complexes. The more luxurious the apartment, the wider the range of available niceties.
Condo community amenities are pretty much the same as what you’ll find in an apartment complex. Inside the units is where things 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.
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.
In a condo, you or the property owner are responsible for the maintenance of 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 before you sign a lease.
If you have issues with your condo rental, you have to contact the owner, who may not be available at your convenience. This could mean longer wait times for completed repairs as well.
In both cases, common areas, including the outside of the building, are not your responsibility. The HOA fee maintains those spots in condo buildings and the property owner handles anything in an apartment.
Which is the better choice for you?
Renting an apartment typically offers a more professional experience. Renting a condo can be a more laid back arrangement, but with fewer services than an apartment. Both have positives and negatives, which is why it’s important to know your preferences.
Understanding what you find at both can help separate the difference between a condo and an apartment in order to select the perfect home. The decision is really about what you’re seeking as an individual in terms of short-term vs. long-term goals and your desired standard of living.