What’s the difference between a condo vs. apartment?

Household 4 min read

Apartments and condos in multifamily buildings may be structured similarly, but details like maintenance fees and building rules can vary. However, the biggest difference is that you rent an apartment and can own a condo.

A condo, or condominium, is a type of housing in which an individual owns the unit’s interior. However, there’s joint ownership of all common areas and features such as lobbies, hallways, land, exterior walls, and roofs. A homeowners association (HOA) is typically responsible for maintaining and repairing common areas, setting and enforcing rules, and managing fees.

Single-family homes can be classified as condos, but a condominium building generally consists of a structure with five or more individually owned units. On the other hand, an apartment building typically has a single owner, often a property management company, that rents individual units out to tenants. Since, “apartment” is a generic term that can apply to multiple housing types, the ownership structure may not be as evident to prospective tenants. However, that can be an important factor, particularly if you’re interested in buying in the future.

How does a co-op differ from an apartment or condo?

Cooperative housing, also known as a co-op, is distinct from apartments and condos. With a co-op, the tenants have shares in a corporation that owns the building. Each member has the right to occupy a unit within the building. Members pay standard charges for the building’s upkeep and usually have individual co-op insurance coverage. New members must initially go through an approval process with the co-op board. Unlike condos, which typically allow sublets, co-ops have stricter rules for subletting. Learn more about the difference between co-op and condo insurance.

What fees are involved when renting a condo vs. an apartment?

When renting an apartment, a landlord or apartment’s property management company often requires new tenants to pay the first and last month’s rent. Some require a deposit, particularly if they’re allowing pets. You may also pay an application fee to cover administrative costs such as running a credit check.

Condo owners pay HOA fees, depending on the community’s maintenance and upkeep expenses. Owners might pay a special assessment if the condo building or complex requires extensive repairs or renovations. If the owner is renting the unit, they may consider these fees when determining how much rent to charge. When costs go up, the owner might pass that increase to a renter whose lease is up for renewal. If you’re renting a condo, check with the owner to ensure they have condo insurance. Consider a renters insurance policy to protect your personal property.

Other differences between condos vs. apartments

Rules aren’t universal

National, state, and local housing regulations apply to apartment buildings and condos. Both housing types may also have rules that apply to the entire building or complex. These rules often cover aspects such as the use of common areas, trash cleanup, noise control, parking situations, and whether pets are allowed.

Rules regarding apartment interiors, such as painting walls or hanging objects, will apply equally to all building tenants. On the other hand, condo owners within a common complex who rent out their units might have entirely different rules for tenants. For example, one owner may allow smoking while another prohibits it. Before signing a lease, always ask for a complete list of rules and regulations.

Features and amenities vary

Each housing type varies regarding unit layouts, features, and managers. Even units within the same apartment or condo complex may differ depending on location, design, and construction date. Some condos offer more amenities than similarly sized apartments in the same area due to their ownership structure. These amenities include pools, fitness facilities, parks, gardens, playgrounds, clubhouses, and community rooms. Keep in mind that apartment buildings might also provide these amenities.

Handling of maintenance and repairs

An apartment building owner is generally responsible for maintaining the property, common areas such as stairwells, elevators, and entryways, and all the units’ interiors. The owner might use a repair person on staff or hire an outside contractor, but the repair process should remain the same for all tenants.

A condominium’s HOA handles the upkeep of all common areas, but interior condo repairs are the condo owner’s responsibility. Some landlords may request that tenants use preferred contractors. Before signing a lease, find out who’s responsible for repairs. You’ll want to find out what to do in case of an urgent issue such as a burst pipe and water damage. So now, if you were to ask, “is a condo the same as an apartment,” you know that there are important differences, including the option for future ownership.

Ownership options

When weighing the pros and cons of renting a condominium vs. an apartment, future ownership might be the factor that tips the scales. An apartment building owner isn’t likely to offer tenants the opportunity to purchase their units. However, renting a condo within a multifamily building can be a great first step in determining whether you want to make it your permanent residence down the road. It allows you to become familiar with the amenities, HOA, community members, and overall value.

After familiarizing yourself with the differences between condominiums and apartments, you might wonder what questions to ask before renting an apartment, when looking for your next place to rent. You might also be interested in some tips for what to look for in choosing your next apartment, and for choosing an apartment floor plan that works for you.

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