But the truth is there are many, maybe even dozens, of types of rental properties and apartments to be had. Beyond the general descriptor of how many bedrooms you’ll find, take a quick dive into a handful of the ones you’re most likely to encounter on your apartment hunt. The more you understand about the different types, the more you’ll know which one is right for you.
A bachelor apartment is a studio apartment but, believe it or not, even smaller. It can often come without the kitchenette at all, or even share a bathroom with other tenants.
It’s named as such, in theory, because it’s comfortable for a “bachelor lifestyle.” But it’s more likely a good place to stay single forever.
Like the name implies, a basement apartment is underground with a full house or building built over it. They’re typically no different from a regular apartment, with a full bathroom and all the standard fare, but depending on the unit, there could be significant differences.
You may have to enter and exit through the house above or share a kitchen with the primary tenant, and you might be subject to noise from upstairs. Basement apartments usually only provide small awning or hopper windows, offering little-to-no natural light and fresh air. In fact, basement apartments are not legal in many municipalities.
Classic six (or seven, etc.)
A Classic six apartment is a six-room rental unit consisting of a master bedroom with en-suite bathroom, a second bedroom with a second full bathroom (doubling as the guest bath), a living room, a formal dining room, a full kitchen and a study or third bedroom (often referred to as a “maid’s room”) off the kitchen with its own small bathroom.
These are typically pre-war units often found on the Upper East and Upper West Sides of Manhattan often featuring hardwood floors, high ceilings, elaborate moldings and even fireplaces.
For a form of more democratic living, you might consider a co-op apartment. It’s a unit in a standard apartment building run by its tenants or a board elected into office by the residents, rather than a singular landlord or company. The residents or the board, usually through a voting process, approve any new tenant that applies to rent a unit.
The board or residents also typically create the rules of residence that all tenants must follow. Remember the old television show Frasier? In that show, Frasier Crane and his dad lived in a co-op building in Seattle, and often butted heads with their buildings co-op board.
A condo is not an apartment. A condo is not a rental property. A condo is an apartment-style unit owned by its tenant. While, yes, a condo can be rented out to a second party, when that happens, it becomes an apartment, just like a grilled cheese becomes a bacon sandwich when you put bacon on it. Don’t @ me.
A convertible apartment is kind of like a Transformer. It’s a variable layout of a standard one- or two-bedroom apartment that creates a spot for an additional bedroom by splitting an existing room in half.
Typically, this is done by installing a temporary pressurized wall in the living room or walling off the dining room (yes, with a door) to create an added space. This is also known as a flexible apartment.
Corporate and Base Housing
Simply put, corporate housing is any apartment allocated to businesses for mid-to-extended stays, usually paid for by the company. Housing on military bases for active military and their families fall into this category, as well. Corporate apartments are often serviced apartments or in an apartment hotel.
Duplex and triplex
A duplex apartment consists of two separate single family units in one building on a single lot, with a single owner. These are typically inside a house-like building, with the units connected by a shared wall (side-by-side) or floor and ceiling (“up/down”), and separate entrances to the outside.
Duplexes often feature amenities less common in apartment buildings such as in-unit laundry, porches and patios, attics, backyards, driveways and occasionally, garages. A triplex is the same exact thing, but with three units rather than two.
However, in Manhattan (and some other large cities) a duplex has a different definition. There, a duplex is a single-occupancy apartment in a tall building spread over two floors connected by an indoor (often spiral) staircase. This is also known as a maisonette.
A garage apartment is just that – an apartment in a garage. The comfort and livability of garage apartments vary widely from unit to unit, but are typically refurbished spaces with sealed doors no longer being used as a garage, so don’t expect to be curling up next to your landlord’s Toyota Highlander or have your accent wall suddenly open up in the middle of the night.
Similar to a basement apartment, you may or may not have a separate entrance or kitchen, and they often lack natural light. Some units listed as garage apartment are actually above an existing working garage (and subject to all the noise you would expect), so be sure to check it out first. Additionally, garage apartments usually do not qualify for renters insurance.
Most common in urban areas, a garden apartment refers to a ground floor apartment that has direct and private access to a greened backyard or garden. Think of a duplex or railroad apartment that has a back door that leads directly to a fenced-in, often long and narrow backyard lawn or garden box, with multiple adjacent neighbors with a similar setup.
High-rise, low-rise and mid-rise
A high-rise is usually meant to describe a tall, residential multiple dwelling unit with one or more elevators, interior hallways and a lobby of some type.
While there’s no legal definition of how high an apartment building must rise to be classified as a high-rise, Emporis, a website specializing in tall buildings, states a high-rise is at least 115 feet tall or at least a dozen stories. But, says Emporis, once a building reaches forty floors, it becomes a skyscraper.
High-rise buildings are characteristically luxurious or at least stylishly decorated. Conversely, a low-rise is a short apartment building typically one-to-four stories tall and not as lavish, and a mid-rise has four-to-eleven floors.
Just in case you’ve been living in a cave for the last thousand years, a house is a freestanding single-family building on a private lot. When the owner of the building rents out the entire house to a tenant or one family, one could argue the house, by definition, becomes an apartment.
A common trope in old black-and-white sitcoms and cartoons, an in-law apartment is a self-contained living space or rental unit attached to or on the property of a primary house.
These units are often added on to a house later, ostensibly to serve as a home to take care of a newly-widowed mother-in-law. Or, at least, that’s the joke.
Just one step up from a studio apartment, a junior one is a studio with an additional room that’s not legally a bedroom. Sure, you can sleep in there if you wish, but the extra room is often no more than a glorified walk-in closet. It can’t be called a bedroom because they typically have no windows and occasionally, not even a door that can be closed.
A loft apartment is usually a top-floor unit set up as one large, open space for the living room, dining room, kitchen and bedroom, without internal dividing walls. These units, preferred by artist types, young urban professionals and hipsters, often have features like the original brick walls, high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed pipes, ventilation tubing and support beams.
Originally, these were almost exclusively reclaimed converted warehouses and industrial buildings in urban areas above commercial spaces and restaurants, but as their popularity increased, many are now intentionally built in this style.
While a penthouse is technically built on the roof of a building, the standard usage is any top floor apartment of a high-rise. Typically, it’s more expensive and contains a slew of amenities and luxury accouterments.
Penthouse apartments also often provide a balcony or open roof space and wide views. They’re not always as fancy as Mr. Drummond’s two-story duplex on Diff’rent Strokes, but a penthouse apartment is often quite adorned with luxury.
A railroad apartment is long and skinny, with one hallway running the length of the unit from front door to back. The rooms are aligned on one side of the hallway, often in the order from living room and kitchen in the front to bedrooms in the back.
As its name suggests, it’s set up like a railroad sleeping car, with a walkway down one side of the car and a series of successive rooms along the other, with doors opening into the hall.
Serviced apartment and apartment hotel
An apartment hotel is just like any regular furnished apartment building, but it rents out rooms in a system similar to a hotel. There are no fixed leases or permanent residents, and tenants can check in and out as they please.
A serviced apartment is basically the same thing but is often much bigger or in a non-hotel style building and preferred by families.
Similar to a railroad, a shotgun apartment is also elongated and narrow but do not contain a connecting hallway. Each room feeds directly into the next through an opening in the wall, which necessitates the bedroom being the last in line to the back.
A studio apartment is, by definition, an apartment with a single room which functions as bedroom, living room, dining room and kitchen, plus an enclosed bathroom. Any more rooms than that and it is not a studio.
And while the cliché image of a studio apartment is tiny and scant, they can vary from the smallest living space to giant lofts. In the U.S., a studio apartment averages between about 500 and 600 square feet.
As the hyphenated word suggests, a walk-up is any apartment building without an elevator to the higher floors. Residents of these units must use the staircase to access their apartments.
While it’s not dictionary-defined, a walk-up apartment is usually at least on the third floor or higher, where getting to it without an elevator requires a bit of effort.