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Condo, Apartment, Townhouse – What’s the difference? Is there a difference?

Apartment, condo, walkup, flat, townhouse – what are all of these things?  What’s the difference between them? Can an apartment be a condo? Can a condo be a townhouse? What is a flat anyway?!? There are so many different types of rentals!

In all the years we’ve been looking at rentals, we’ve seen very little consensus on these definitions, but we’re going to try anyway – perhaps just to settle some debates around the office.  

Here’s our attempt to classify the major categories of rentals. We can’t promise your mother or your friend who’s a real estate agent is going to agree with you, but here’s what we think.  Ready?

Most Common Rental Types:


This is where most people live.  This is what we all know and love.  If you live in an apartment, you have neighbors in the same building – upstairs, next door.  Your building may be one story tall or 40, but you still live in an apartment.


Strictly speaking, condominiums are a particular form of ownership – generally when someone owns a part of a larger building.  In the rental market, it generally means two things.  

First, the finishes are nicer than average – stainless steel appliances & granite countertops, perhaps, or genuine hardwood floors.  Second, the owner is usually an individual who owns just that unit, instead of a person or company who owns the entire building.

You may often see a rental marketed as “Condo spec” – that usually means it may or may not be an actual condo, but it does have fancier finishes – and usually a price to match!


This type of rental is probably tougher than most of these – very little in terms of a definition for a townhouse, unfortunately.

In some places, it means that the rental is in a row of houses that are attached to each other.  Often, it means a rental with multiple levels – two or three most typically. It can also mean that the rental has it’s own private outdoor entrance/exit, so you don’t have to go through the building’s lobby or hallways.


In some places, like New York or Chicago, there’s a ton of two or three story streetfront rentals with stores on the first floor and apartments above.  That’s usually what walkup means.  


Let’s be honest.  If you see someone advertising a “flat” for rent in the U.S., it generally means they spent some time in the United Kingdom and would like you to know that.  Not judging – the U.K. is a wonderful renters’ market!  

Flat is the generic British term for apartment.  It’s hardly used, if at all, in the U.S.  


Did you know that about one third of the rentals in the U.S. are houses – single family homes?  Believe it or not, it’s one of the biggest groups of rental types in the whole country. This part is pretty easy to classify…it’s a house. Not attached to anything else. 

Well, there you are – the Dwellsy team’s attempt to settle the debate over some of the most common terms used to talk about the different types of rentals.

Now, it’s time to go browse Dwellsy’s deep inventory of listings and find your own apartment, condo, house, or townhouse to rent …but no flats on offer here!

Check out these renter tips and then visit Dwellsy.com to find a rental and make it home.

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