A Complete Guide to the Different Types of Apartments

Updated: Nov. 29, 2023

More and more people are choosing apartment living, and there are many types to accommodate them. Here are some of the most common.

Bright modern bedroom in an old country houseWESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES

Choosing Among Different Types of Apartments

If you’re looking for an apartment to rent, you’re not alone, and that’s part of the problem.

A growing number of Americans are living in apartments, with some 56 million people in buildings with two or more units, according to data from the National Multifamily Housing Council. That’s driving up rental prices and making apartments harder to find.

But it’s also acting as an incentive for homeowners to ease the housing burden by converting parts of their properties to apartment units.

Though more people than ever are living in apartments, renters have more choices than in previous years, and more opportunities to find accommodations that suit their budgets. That, of course, depends on where you want to live.

A studio apartment renting for $1,625 in Washington, D.C. in 2021 cost only $577 in Arkansas, according to data from Statista. In 2023, Zumper reports a two-bedroom apartment costs $850 in Wichita, Kansas but a whopping $4,150 in New York City — the highest in the U.S.

Between the extremes of a basic self-contained studio and a classic six-room New York flat, some people identify at least 15 types of apartments. There is enough overlap among some types, however, to qualify as variations of a theme. Here are 10 of the most common types of apartments you’ll find as you search for a place to call home.

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Spacious studio with bed and crates
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The studio is essentially a one-room apartment. The open floor plan includes a bedroom, living room and modern kitchen all rolled into one, while the bathroom is separated by a door.

Studio apartments can be 300 to 600 square feet, with those on the smaller side sometimes referred to as micro studio apartments. If there’s an alcove (aka a nook or niche) that separates the sleeping area from the rest of the space, it’s known as an alcove studio apartment.

Some studio apartments built in the upper floors of commercial buildings are known as loft apartments. Many have high ceilings and large windows.

Studios are suitable for a single person or a couple. But due to the lack of privacy, it wouldn’t suit unrelated renters living together.

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Messy bed in studio apartment
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Efficiency Apartment

An efficiency apartment is a small studio — usually not much larger than 300 square feet — with some key distinguishing features.

Instead of a full kitchen, there’s often just a kitchenette with a small sink, stove and refrigerator, a few storage cabinets and limited counter space. There’s a separate bathroom, but the delineations between the kitchen, living and bedroom spaces are not as pronounced as in a full studio. Sometimes the kitchen cabinets create separation.

Efficiency apartments are most often found in high-density urban areas. They suit people with few personal belongings who live alone and tend to move frequently. If you paint your rental, will you lose your damage deposit? Here’s everything you need to know about apartment painting.

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Home living room with wood and paper divider screen blocking sun from window, black metal accent table and sofa, natural colors.
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Flex or Convertible Apartment

These a non-permanent partition that increases the number of rooms for added privacy. Sometimes a bookshelf or curtain serves as the partition.

A convertible studio apartment can thus become a one-bedroom unit, and a convertible one-bedroom become a two-bedroom apartment. The trade-off is that each added room has less space, but the partition does provide privacy. A flex unit can be a good solution for an elderly or disabled person who lives alone but has caregivers or relatives who occasionally stay over.

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Sunny Living Space in Barcelona Apartment
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Garden Apartment

This is a basement or first-floor apartment with access to a private or shared garden space. It often has a sliding patio door that opens onto the garden.

The garden provides space to lounge in a natural setting and possibly grow your own flowers and vegetables. But it can create security issues if it’s unfenced and easily accessible. Garden apartments are also prone to problems with pests and moisture. So before renting one, do a walk-through and get as much information as possible from the landlord or rental agent.

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View from an apartment balcony in Singapore
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Low-Rise, Mid-Rise and High-Rise Apartments

Apartment buildings with multiple units can be low-rise (no more than four stories), mid-rise (five to 11 stories) or high-rise (12 stories or more). Mid- and high-rise apartment buildings often have centrally located elevators.

While some low-rise buildings have elevators, many don’t, forcing people on upper stories to use the stairs. When someone in New York City says they live in a “fourth-floor walk-up,” it means a low-rise with no elevator.

Mid- and high-rise apartment buildings are common in high-density urban areas. Individual units are usually well-appointed with one or more bedrooms. Some low-rise buildings are older and come with issues related to age, including high heating bills and noisy window-mounted air conditioners.

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Basement Apartment

These sit below ground level, usually accessed by a stairway on the street or inside the building. Because it’s in the basement, smallish windows (some partially obscured by window wells) provide limited natural light.

You often find basement units in apartment complexes, but single-family homeowners also convert basements to apartments to rent out for extra income. Many basement apartments are well-insulated and comfortable, but some in old buildings have problems with moisture and noise.

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Modern extension built onto the side of a listed period property.
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Additional Living Unit (ADU)

Also known as in-law units and granny flats, ADUs are fully-contained living spaces that may be added onto an existing house or constructed as detached units. A homeowner may build an ADU to accommodate a family member, then rent it out when the family member no longer needs the space. It may have a doorway leading to the main residence.

ADUs are becoming increasingly common in places like California, where the state government is relaxing zoning standards to encourage homeowners to build them to address a housing shortage. ADUs are often built on spacious properties where renters have full or partial access.

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Street in West Village, New York City, USA
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Co-Op Apartment

A co-operative housing development, or co-op, is jointly owned by the people who live there. When you move in, you become a part-owner and assume partial responsibility for the mortgage, utilities and maintenance for the entire complex.

The co-op usually has a governing body made up of tenants. Co-op rules and financial responsibilities are spelled out in an agreement established by that body. Co-ops may allow residents to sublet their units, but many don’t, and those that do usually establish strict guidelines.

Renting a co-op apartment can be economical. But it’s usually an involved process that includes an extended waiting period.

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Interior of living room in old building flat
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Railroad Apartment

Although it sounds like something out of the Wild West, a railroad apartment is so named because of the orientation of the rooms. There is no central hallway, and each room opens onto the next, so you have to walk through multiple rooms to traverse the apartment — similar to walking through a railway car.

These tend to be in old buildings in large cities like New York and Chicago. Many offer the old-world charm that comes with vintage woodwork and architecture. Because of the lack of privacy, however, they work better for families than unrelated roommates.

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Typical two story duplex houses has two units in same building, share a common wall in Anchorage, Alaska
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Duplex and Triplex

Common in San Francisco and other cities, duplexes and triplexes feature two or three individual units built into a single structure. Each has its own entrance from the street and a common wall with the unit next door. Duplexes and triplexes are the precursors to modern townhouses, and the buildings are often quite old.

Many of those in San Francisco are vintage Victorian structures dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s. They often have more than one story and as much living space as a fully detached house. They’re suitable for families and collections of individual renters who share the living space. Get to know the difference between an apartment and a house.