Condos vs. Apartments

At first glance it may seem that apartments are exactly the same as condominiums. In many respects they are.

However, understanding the differences in these housing options is critical to making the best choice for your budget and lifestyle. Expectations are different for a condo owner as opposed to an apartment renter.

Moreover, the legal designations and your rights differ significantly. Understanding the differences between apartments and condos can mean the difference between a dream home and a disaster of a living situation.

If you are considering purchasing a condo, be sure to do your research. Many first-time condo owners buy into the misconception that a condo designates a high end, better constructed dwelling. There may also be a difference in the price of insurance for a condo versus an apartment.

However, like apartments, condos come in a wide variety of price ranges, amenities and levels of quality. Learn about the real similarities and differences between these two housing options below.

What are condos?

Technically condos look like apartments, but the difference lies in the legal structure.

Condos are independently owned units, whereas apartment buildings are owned by an individual or group and rented out. Apartments are designed to be rented, while condos can often be rented or owned depending on the rules enforced by the condo owner’s association.

The process of renting a condo from someone can also be different than renting an apartment. Make sure you know about all of the fees involved, as condos often come with more fees added on than a regular apartment.

This goes in part to covering the taxes the owner must pay on the property, as well as home owner’s association dues and other fees for amenities.

To ensure you are well-informed and prepared to rent a condo, make sure you ask the landlord the following questions:

  • Who pays the association dues?
  • Who handles the costs if there is a maintenance issue?
  • What clauses protect you if the owner of the condo defaults on his or her payments to the association?
  • Are pets allowed by the association?
  • What modifications can you make to the premises?

Each state has a different set of tenant laws, all easily accessible online. While they are often lengthy and not particularly exciting to read, they do give you a complete listing of your rights and responsibilities as a renter. Condo owners must abide by an additional set of rules called the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions rules (CC&R).

While you are held responsible by the owner, ultimately if there is a violation it is the condo’s owner who is legally charged.

CC&R rules often regulate how many people can live in the space, restrict the age of a renter, prohibit pets and describe how many vehicles or visitors may stay at the condo for a given length of time. Make sure you review your contract and the CC&R contract before you sign.

What are apartments?

Apartments are living spaces rented within a larger building or complex. Usually the larger compounds are owned by a business group. Most units have limited floor plans, up to three to choose from at any given time. They also generally offer tenants a way to pay the rent online and offer 24-hour maintenance services.

In addition, apartments tend to cost less than condos because they do not involve many of the fees that condos include. Each apartment is different, and depending on its location, amenities offered and your credit score, the fees and rental rates may vary.

Condos vs. Apartments

As a general rule, condos do tend to be in better shape than apartments. This is due in large part to the fact that each is independently owned and often treated as an investment.

Groups owning apartment buildings tend to keep things standardized and construction costs low, often opting for the most affordable materials to set up the rental units. This allows them to keep the costs low for renters, though it does not tend to hold up over time, nor maintain its value the same way a condo does.

When comparing the response rate on maintenance issues, you are more likely to get a faster response from a condo owner because he or she wants to protect the investment.

Meanwhile, large apartment complexes are managed by property management companies who have many such complexes to maintain and service. As a result of this, you may wait longer to have maintenance issues addressed in an apartment.

In general, apartments cost less per month than a condo, and most do not have additional fees added on each month. Most apartments are uniform and basic, offering only a few floor plans and limiting what you can or cannot do to the interiors.

Conversely, many condo owners will allow you to make minor alterations and improvements to the property as long as you ask first.

How to Determine What’s Right for You

What is your most pressing housing concern? If it is the cost per month, then perhaps apartment living is the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you are ready to own your own place, but do not want the responsibility of an actual house, then a condo is a great investment.

If you rent a condo to see how you like it, an attentive landlord is a plus whereas in an apartment building you must vie with other renters for attention when something needs repairing.

If the cost per month is not the most pressing concern, but where you live and how you live matters may have more significance to you.

In that case, both apartments and condos offer great amenities, often in similar areas within a state. Both apartments and condos have their own set of restrictions and rules, but often condo rules and regulations are stricter.

Before signing a lease for either a condo or an apartment, do more than just visit the models. Make sure to find out all you can about the properties you are interested in so you are prepared to meet the terms of your lease or condo association.

Perhaps you know someone living in the exact neighborhood you are considering. If so, try to ask specific questions about what is allowed and what they wish they had known prior to purchasing or renting in that area. You can also use online resources, such as reviews to get a clear picture of how owners or renters are treated.