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What is a Duplex Apartment & How to Find Them

May 2, 2022
A duplex is a two-family home comprised of two units on a single lot sharing a common wall.

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. Such configuration can be side by side or on top of another. However, each is still considered a duplex.

Duplexes are classified as such when two units on a single lot share a common wall. Thus, those who own a duplex own two homes.

Both apartments in the duplex have separate entrances and are inaccessible to one another from the inside. In a stacked duplex, stairs with different landings leading to the entrances for each unit are the only way to get to each unit.

These two separate units will typically have similar square footage. However, this depends on the layout of the building. For example, in a stacked duplex, the upstairs occupant may access additional storage space in an attic.

Many duplexes are owner-occupied, with the vacant unit being advertised as rent by owner. Landlords occupying and renting out duplexes will typically save on mortgage expenses, with their tenants covering most, if not all, the mortgage payments through their rent payments.

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.

Similar Layouts to Duplexes

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.

Generally, triplexes and quadplexes utilize a side-by-side layout rather than stacked. Therefore, anything beyond four units on a single property bordering on an apartment building or community territory.

Triplexes and quadplexes offer the same great benefits as duplexes, just with more earning potential for landlords.

For renters, living in a quadplex or triplex unit can mean more shared walls if you end up sandwiched between units. This can make the experience more akin to traditional apartment living with neighbors surrounding you.

Differences Between Duplexes and Apartments

The differences between duplexes and apartments include ownership, amenities, and number of units. Duplexes are usually owned by individuals who may act as landlords. Duplexes are typically listed as rent-by-owner, and it’s common for landlords to reside in one of the duplex’s units.

Compared to apartments, duplexes offer more amenities common in single-family homes. Duplexes may offer semi-private outdoor spaces, more privacy, off-street parking in a garage, and lower rent rates than traditional apartments.

Apartments are located within buildings or communities that include many units. For example, within a duplex, there are just two residential units. For this reason, you’ll find duplexes are more common in residential neighborhoods, while apartments are found in more urban neighborhoods.

How to Find Duplex Apartments

Starting your duplex apartment search is simple if you follow our tips. Here’s a breakdown of the steps to take when looking for a duplex apartment.

Start your Search Early

When it comes to looking for an apartment, timing is everything. It’s important to give yourself ample time to complete your apartment hunt.

With enough time, you’ll be able to plan and handle all the other details associated with your move, including transport for your belongings, buying new furnishings, and taking a few apartment tours.

That’s why it’s a good idea to start your apartment search a month or two prior to your preferred move-in day.

Due to the seasonality in the rental industry, looking for an apartment in the winter months will likely result in a smoother move, as there is typically less competition and lower rent rates. However, if you start your apartment hunt in the summer months, you’ll have tons of duplex apartments to choose from as the moving season peaks.

Know What You Are Looking For

Every apartment hunt is unique because every renter is unique. Your preferences will dictate the direction of your search for the perfect duplex apartment.

Although you have already narrowed down your apartment search to duplexes, you’ll need to trim your list of options even further.

Start by creating a list of your preferred apartment amenities. With this list, you can reduce your options to duplex apartments that have everything you want in a home.

Of course, your list should include traditional amenities, such as a sizable square footage or a good layout. However, there are other amenities that you may include in your list.

For example, if you’re looking for accessible apartments that provide reasonable accommodations, you can weed out any units that don’t meet your needs.

Of course, you may be interested in units that include apartment utilities in the cost of rent.

Who doesn’t love the simplicity of a single monthly bill?

Search for Listings Online

Although you can still find apartment listings in your local newspaper or by calling around, most of today’s apartment hunting strategies start online.

Luckily, there are a ton of apartment listing platforms to choose from, each with thousands of listings. The unfortunate part is, that can mean hours spent searching.

Searching for apartments doesn’t have to include a tedious slog through tons of listings that you simply aren’t interested in.

Apartment List personalizes the apartment hunting experience by allowing you to search for apartments that align with your preferences.

Whether you’re looking for pet-friendly apartments or a month-to-month lease, simply select a filter to find a curated list of apartments that fit that criteria.

With Apartment List, finding your dream apartment gets a whole lot easier.

Set Up Apartment Tours

If you’ve found a duplex apartment that you’ve fallen in love with, don’t hesitate to schedule a tour.

Duplex apartment tours help you determine whether the apartment is a good fit. You’ll need to make sure everything in the unit is in good condition.

Moreover, it’s important to use the tour to determine whether you can see yourself living in the apartment.

If you can see yourself living in the duplex apartment, break out your list of questions to ask your landlord. These questions will help you get an idea of what you can expect if you move in.

Here are some relevant questions to ask your landlord before renting a duplex apartment.

It’s important to tailor your list of questions to your rental situation. If you need some more inspiration, check out our guide: 20 Questions to Ask Your Landlord When Renting an Apartment.

Be wary of rental fraud during your apartment tour. If your landlord or property manager asks for money during the tour, or you notice any other sketchy behavior, don’t hand anything over.

Apply and Sign Your Lease

Once you’ve found a duplex apartment that’s a good match, you can move on to the apartment application process.

During this process, you’ll be asked to complete and submit an apartment application. The application should be simple to fill out, but here are some things you should have on hand before getting started on it:

  • $40 to Cover Application Fees (if applicable)
  • A Driver’s License, Passport, State-Issued ID, Social Security Card, or Another Form of ID
  • Rental History
  • Proof of Income
  • References

Your application will be reviewed by your prospective landlord or property manager and they’ll likely perform a background or credit check to determine whether you have the right credit score needed to rent an apartment.

Once you’ve been approved, it’s on to the lease agreement.

Signing a lease agreement constitutes a legally binding agreement, so never sign a lease agreement before reading it.

You don’t want to find yourself beholden to a lease agreement whose terms you never intended to abide by.

Once you’ve read and re-read the lease agreement, and discussed its terms with your landlord or property manager, you can sign and make the agreement official.

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.

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.

Are Duplex Apartments Right for You?

Duplexes are best for renters looking for an affordable, spacious unit within a residential neighborhood. Keep in mind that you’ll be sharing some spaces with your neighbor, including outdoor areas and hallways. Otherwise, your traditional duplex is a private abode — all your own.

As duplexes are owned by private individuals and usually managed by owners acting as landlords, duplexes may also be a good fit for renters with low credit scores or no credit. Private landlords are more likely to consider your ability to pay rent over your credit score.

If you prefer more established rental procedures and prioritized maintenance, it may be best to stick to traditional apartment communities and complexes. Although private landlords do their best, it’s hard to match the efficiency and reliability of an apartment complex with an on-site apartment manager and maintenance staff.

Looking to kickstart your apartment search? Start apartment searching on Apartment List!

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Ashley is a freelance writer at Apartment List. In addition to her contributions to Apartment List, Ashley works with other real estate businesses and is currently earning her BA in English Writing and Journalism. Read More
Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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