What Is an Apartment House?


Apartment houses have existed for centuries. There are several types, each with a different price point, purpose, and potential tenant. But what is the most appropriate definition for this type of housing?

What is an apartment house? An apartment house, also known as an apartment block, is a building that contains more than one dwelling unit, most of which are intended for domestic use, but may sometimes include shops and other non-residential features.

Some apartment houses contain only a handful of units, while larger structures might be multiple stories tall and house hundreds of tenants. Apartment houses are generally classified by size: low-rise apartment houses are typically four or fewer stories high, mid-rise buildings are structures with between five and nine stories, and high-rise buildings are made up of ten or more stories. Apartment buildings can also be categorized based on ownership: an individual or company owns single-owner apartment buildings, cooperative apartment buildings are owned by shareholders rather than a single entity, and condominiums are buildings with individually owned units.

An apartment house is any residential space in which two or more units are within the same property. Read on to discover the different types of apartment buildings, as well as the different types of apartments that you may find in them.

Types of apartment houses

Apartment houses can be categorized in two ways: structure type and ownership types.

Types of structures

The general classification used for apartment houses is based on size. The three main size distinctions are low-rise, medium/mid-rise, and high-rise, based on the number of units and floors in the building. 

1. Low-rise apartment houses

These apartment buildings are commonly found in suburban areas. These structures are typically four or fewer stories high (you might come across classifications defining it as three or fewer stories) and may or may not feature elevators. There may be only one house or several, spread out over a significant area.

Low-rise apartment buildings may offer amenities such as ample parking space for residents, with some even providing garages for an additional fee. They may also offer accessibility options for the disabled or elderly. Most low-rise apartment houses often allow tenants to negotiate the terms of their leases more readily than other types of houses.

These apartment houses typically feature fewer amenities than other options, but they are generally more affordable.

2. Mid-rise apartment houses

These are multifamily structures with between five and nine stories. Most mid-rise apartment buildings typically feature at least one elevator, and they can be found in both suburban and urban areas. 

Over the years, these structures have seen a significant increase in popularity among tenants, investors, and builders. Mid-rise apartment houses are popular with tenants because a majority of them are located within walking distance of services such as restaurants, transportation hubs, shops, and entertainment spots. 

Because mid-rise buildings aren’t usually found in city centers, they generally offer more privacy and fewer noise disturbances than high-rise buildings. These houses are also relatively low-maintenance for tenants and many of them offer an array of amenities like a gym, pool, common areas, and even green spaces.

3. High-rise apartment houses

High-rise apartment housing is any structure with ten or more stories, typically found in busy metropolitan areas. In towns and cities where land is scarce and expensive, high-rise apartment housing can create reliable housing solutions on a small piece of land. Many of them are constructed with reinforced concrete and steel.

High-rise buildings are common-pace in large metropolitan areas like Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco, but they’re also gaining in popularity in mid-size cities throughout the USA. with more people gravitating towards the city center, the demand for structures with more units has also increased, creating more wealth-accumulating opportunities for investors.

However, these apartment houses come with their fair share of challenges. Parking space in many of these structures is limited. In addition, building and maintaining high-rise buildings can be an expensive venture – these structures must meet strict safety standards, such as the ability to withstand natural disasters (high winds, severe storms, earthquakes, etc.) depending on the location.

Despite the potential challenges, investing in high-rise apartment houses can be a lucrative venture as many of them feature luxury apartments on the top floors that bring in considerable income. The high number of occupants also provides a source of profit for investors. 

4. Mixed-use buildings

Many towns and suburbs feature shopping districts that have mixed-use buildings. These are structures with two or more stories, from towering high-rise complexes to low-rise buildings. As you might have guessed from the name, these buildings serve a variety of purposes: residential, commercial, office space, recreational, industrial, or parking.

Mixed-use buildings fall into two main categories:

  • Vertical mixed-use buildings – These are typically high- or mid-rise structures with multiple stories. The bottom stories of these buildings house storefronts, businesses, or other commercial tenants, while residential units fill the higher floors.
  • Horizontal mixed-use buildings – Mixed-use structures may also be spread out horizontally – residential units might occupy one end of the building, while businesses might occupy the other.

Mixed-use properties are beneficial to both residents and businesses – residents can easily access items, and businesses have a customer base nearby.

Examples of mixed-use apartment houses include:

  • Higher education centers with residential units on the top floors and classrooms on the ground floors.
  • Urban centers with residential units on the top floors, office space on the middle floors, and shops on the bottom floors.
  • Suburban communities with residential units, shops, and restaurants on the same street.

Ownership types

Apartment houses can also be categorized based on ownership:

1. Single-owner apartment houses

The landlord is an individual or corporation that owns the whole building. All tenants sign leases or rental agreements with the property owner.

2. Co-op apartment houses

Co-op (cooperative) apartments aren’t owned by a single entity, but rather by a group of shareholders. The shareholders don’t buy an individual unit, but rather a part of or the whole building. Owners are at liberty to rent out their apartments, but it is a long and drawn-out process. 

There is usually a board that sets the policies for the building, and some of them have no qualms when it comes to allowing shareholders to sublet their units. Renting a co-op unit is usually a complicated and involving application and interview process.

3. Condominium apartment houses

A condominium apartment building, or condo, in short, is a building that is made up of individually owned units. If you intend to rent a condo, you’ll be renting from the owner of that particular unit and not from the building itself. Condos bear a close physical resemblance to apartments, especially when it comes to the physical features and amenities. 

Types of apartments

The different types of apartments you will find in apartment houses include:

  • Studio apartments – This is a small space (usually around 600 square feet) that has an open kitchen/dining area, bathroom, and a small area for a “bedroom” that doesn’t have interior walls or doors. 
  • Alcove studio apartments – This is a studio apartment with an L-partition that creates a separate sleeping area. It might not be any larger than the standard studio but it feels more spacious and allows for a bit more privacy.
  • Convertible apartments – Although it doesn’t have a bedroom, a convertible unit is larger than a studio apartment. This apartment type has an area that you can use as a bedroom – it might be a smaller room with sliding doors, an L-shaped alcove, or an area that is separated from the main living space by a partial wall. 
  • Micro apartments – A micro apartment is smaller than a studio apartment. Where the typical studio unit is about 600 square feet, a micro unit is less than 400 square feet. This type of apartment may feature a minimal kitchen and dining space, a tiny sleeping area, and a cramped bathroom. Many micro apartments have multi-functional spaces – for example, the couch might convert into a bed, or the kitchen counter might fold into the wall when it’s not in use).
  • Efficiency apartments – An efficiency apartment is quite similar to a studio apartment, so much so that the two terms are used interchangeably in some settings. The distinguishing feature is the kitchen – while a studio has a standard kitchen with full-size appliances, an efficiency unit will have a compact kitchenette that doesn’t feature a countertop or stove. An efficiency apartment will also have a small sink and a mini-refrigerator, as well as a microwave or small cooktop in place of a standard kitchen range. 
  • Garden apartments – This is a unit that sits on the ground floor of an apartment house and has access to a green space, backyard, garden area, or lawn. Garden apartments are more common in suburban and rural areas.
  • Loft apartments – The layout of lofts is similar to that of studio apartments in the sense that they have open floor plans, but they are typically much larger with high ceilings and large windows. Many lofts are usually repurposed from industrial spaces and historic warehouses, so they may feature elements like open ceilings with exposed beams, brickwork, and original wood floors.
  • Walk-up apartments – Walk-up units are found in apartment houses without an elevator. Unless your unit is on the main level, you’ll have to take the stairs to get to your walk-up apartment.
  • Luxury apartments – These types of apartments provide a variety of amenities, many of which are considered to be above and beyond what’s offered in standard units. A luxury apartment might feature upgraded appliances, high-end finishes, state-of-the-art facilities, or huge closes. As you might expect, these unit types are often more expensive than others.
  • Flex apartments – A flex apartment typically has enough space that allows for setting up of a temporary wall to create a separate room. For example, a one-bedroom flex apartment can be converted into a two-bedroom by putting up drywall.
  • Railroad apartments – This is an apartment type with each room leading into the next without the separation of hallways, almost like passenger cars in trains. A majority of these units are found in older apartment houses and converted brownstones.
  • Basement apartments – You’ll typically find a basement apartment below street level. Above this unit type, you might find more apartments, a business, or a house. They are commonly found in large metropolitan areas, but private homeowners might convert an existing basement into an apartment to rent out.
  • Junior 1-bedroom – A junior 1-bedroom has a kitchen/dining room, bathroom, living room, and enough space for a separate small bedroom. 
  • Shotgun apartment – This is a multi-room unit that is one or two rooms wide. Each room opens into the next one. Many of them open up in the back to provide access to outdoor space.
  • 2-bedroom – This unit type has two separate bedrooms, often with 1 or 1 ½ bathrooms. 
  • Classic six apartment – Classic six apartments are particularly prevalent in new york city. They always feature six distinct rooms, having been built before 1940. These rooms include two full bedrooms, a formal dining room, and a small bedroom with an attached bath located off the kitchen, historically referred to as the maid’s room. Today, this small bedroom is often used as an office, den, or breakfast room. 
  • Junior 4 apartments – This has four rooms: a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and dining room. You can opt to use the dining room as an office or den as it is a small room that typically does not have a window. 
  • Maisonette apartments – Maisonettes often have two floors with a private entrance at the street levels. 
  • Duplex/triplex apartments – These are multi-story units that feature stacked living spaces that are connected by internal staircases. These unit types may contain one or more levels that are dedicated to sleeping quarters.
  • Parlor floor apartments – This is an upper level unit in a townhouse or brownstone. Parlor floor units are particularly popular in Brooklyn.
  • Penthouse – This is a large apartment that sits on the top floor of an apartment building. Most of them are luxurious and pricey, and they often offer spectacular views.

Final thoughts

Whether you plan to invest in a soaring high-rise building or a small duplex, it’s of utmost importance to do your research. Different types of apartment houses have their upsides and downsides, so whatever you choose should be worth your investment. 

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author. She enjoys traveling, reading and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC. Connect with her at [email protected]

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