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What is a Duplex Apartment? Are They Right For Me?

By: Ashley Walter
August 19, 2019

When looking to move into a new apartment, the real estate terminology can get confusing. You’ll hear about single apartments, multi-family complexes, efficiency apartments, and everything in between. 

You might be scrolling through the apartment options, and ask yourself questions like: What is a duplex? And how is it different than a traditional apartment? Don't worry, we've got you covered.

Duplex apartments are becoming increasingly popular for close or extended families, and savvy-landlords looking to capitalize. Understanding duplexes can be confusing though. We’ll walk you through what duplexes are, and the pros and cons of renting them.

What is a Duplex?

Often confused with a twin home, a duplex is a two-family home. Essentially, this apartment layout is two units in a single building. The configuration of such can be side by side or on top of another, each is still considered a duplex.

Duplex Features

  • Both apartments in the duplex have separate entrances. These two separate units will typically have similar square footage.
  • Duplexes are classified as such when there are two units on a single lot that share a common wall. Thus, those who own a duplex own two homes, so to speak
  • Renting these out individually ensure you save on mortgage expenses which appeal to budding landlords.

Duplexes, Triplexes, and Quadprelexes... oh my.

You'll also occasionally hear of triplex and fourplex/quadruplex apartments. Think of these as variations of duplex apartments with three and four units, respectively. The more units, the more neighbors, and the more shared walls.

How is an NYC Duplex Different?

In New York City, the real estate definition of a duplex differs slightly. As we mention a duplex is a unit attached by a common wall, in NYC this counts as a two-level apartment. They are often connected by either an elevator or stairs, or both.

This means that your duplex partner could potentially access your living space easily which is a turn off for certain renters.

When renting a duplex apartment in New York City, it’s important to understand that you may be sharing your amenities with another individual. This could include sharing a kitchen or kitchenette, as well as living space.

Research the floorplan of the location you’re interested in. Also, be sure you’re comfortable living with your co-renter, and ask plenty of questions before moving in.

Pros of Living in a Duplex

There are many benefits of living in a duplex, which is why they’re becoming increasingly popular.  This is especially true for renters New York. Below are the perks of renting a duplex.

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1. Live in a Desirable Location

Renting a duplex tends to come at a lower cost than a traditional apartment. The additional savings could be just what you need to afford a more desirable location. Since the cost of a single lot is shared between two units, the cost of rent and living expenses tend to be lower. This means that you can find a more attractive neighborhood to live in at a cheaper cost.

2. Shared Maintenance Costs

Building upon the affordable living, duplexes allow for shared costs between you and your neighbor. These costs can include things like yard work, living area maintenance, garage clean up, or any renovations on shared spaces. Split costs for these expenses could save you tons of money.

3. Live Close to Your Neighbor

If you’re looking for a place to share with a close friend or family member, renting out a duplex can be the perfect option. Because walls separate each living space, you’ll still have your own home and privacy. Additionally, since you’ll be right next door, or above or below another, both neighbors will be in close proximity to another. However, this will only be a pro for a select few. Many will see this type of living situation as a negative.

4. Growing in Popularity

Compared to other forms of apartments like studios and efficiency apartments, the popularity of duplex apartments is growing. This is especially true in big cities with vast rental markets.

Cons of Living in a Duplex

While living in a duplex can be positive and helpful, for some people this type of living can pose difficulties. Here are some of the negative aspects of living in a duplex to consider.

1. Privacy Boundaries

Depending on who your neighbor is, you may have to deal with setting privacy boundaries in a duplex. This is especially true if renting in New York City. As mentioned above, a duplex you find in Manhattan is two stacked living areas with shared amenities that can be accessed through stairs or elevator. This means you have to trust your neighbor or set boundaries to avoid any negative situations from happening.

If renting a traditional duplex, this could still be an issue as noises and smells that come from sharing a wall may be apparent. This type of rental property with a bad neighbor could lead to plenty of negative experiences. 

2. Shared Spaces

Continuing with the above concern, you may have shared spaces that you and your neighbor would use cooperatively. These could include but are not limited to a back or front yard, garage. In those NYC duplexes, this can include a common living space. Always ask your prospective landlord who your neighbor will be ahead of time. Your landlord may be your neighbor in the duplex, which could be an uncomfortable situation.

3. Increased Responsibilities

Compared to apartment buildings, duplexes tend to be privately owned. Therefore, your landlord won’t traditionally hire anybody to complete household tasks like they would in an apartment building. This means you may have to do things like snow shoveling, gardening, and porch or entryway sweeping. These are responsibilities that a renter in an apartment building typically don’t have.

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