If you're looking for a larger space to rent, take a look at duplexes. These multi-unit buildings provide alternatives to single-family homes and large apartment complexes. Since they often have enough space for more than one person, duplexes are perfect for renters looking to live with friends or for those looking to meet new housemates.

What is a duplex?

Brick duplex covered in snow
Note the two separate doors on a duplex. | Photo credit: JMacPherson

Duplexes are buildings that are split into two separate units. Each unit contains its own living space, including a private kitchen and bathroom. The units can be arranged side by side or stacked one on top of the other, meaning there's either a shared wall or a shared floor/ceiling. In either case, each unit has separate entrances that create a bit of privacy.

In some cities, these units are not technically referred to as duplexes. In San Francisco, codes refer to these types of buildings as "two-family dwellings." Still, you'll likely find that owners and renters refer to them as duplexes.

There are also quite a few variances on the word duplex, based on the number of units in a building. A triplex refers to a building with three units. And buildings with four units go by lots of names, including fourplex, quadplex, and quadruplex. Even with more units, each one still has its own entrance.

Standalone beige fourplex
A fourplex has four doors - one for each unit. | Photo credit: Sightline Institute

No matter how many units are located on a lot, all of the units share the same lot. Often, one person owns the whole lot and all units. Sometimes, units are owned by different people. When this is the case, all owners share the whole lot.

How does a duplex differ from other types of real estate?

Townhouses are separate units located in a single building. They sound like duplexes, right? While these two types of rental properties do have lots of similarities, they differ in terms of ownership of outdoor spaces. With townhomes, ownership includes the interior as well as exterior spaces. Remember, if duplex units are owned by two different people, the outdoor spaces are co-owned. Townhouses also tend to be made up of more units than duplexes or triplexes.

Connected colorful townhomes
Owners of townhomes have individual ownership of exterior spaces. | Photo credit: La Citta Vita

You may think a twin home is the same type of property as a duplex. After all, they're both a single building divided into two units. However, with a twin home, there are two separate lots and two separate owners. Duplexes are located on a single lot, and one person often owns both units.

Living spaces are considered apartments when more than one unit is located in the same building. Oftentimes, many apartments are located in one large building. However, you can also find apartments located above garages or in a house. Since a duplex contains two units, people sometimes refer to units as duplex apartments.

The definition of an NYC duplex

A lot of duplexes were built as company housing for factory workers, so this type of housing is common in cities including Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City.

Now that you're understanding duplexes a little more, let's make things a bit more complicated: New York City has a different definition of duplexes than other cities. Duplexes in NYC can contain shared spaces including stairs, hallways, and kitchens. So, if you rent a duplex in Manhattan, make sure you know the details about privacy.

Who's your landlord?

When you rent an apartment through Faros, you'll know your host (AKA landlord) ahead of time. If you rent through another outlet, this might not be the case. Therefore, it's helpful to understand who might own and rent out your new apartment.

Your landlord might have originally bought their duplex to use as a two-family unit or multi-family home to live next to those they know. However, children grow and times change, so they may have moved out. Since the rental market is competitive in many cities, many owners choose to lease their duplex to renters rather than selling it.

Rented out blue duplex
The owner of a duplex might live in one unit and rent out the other. | Photo credit: Sightline Institute

Duplexes are also popular with first time home buyers who are also looking for some rental income. If this is the case, your landlord might be living in one unit of the duplex and renting out the other unit. This can either be a make or break factor depending on the personality and likability of your landlord.

Some people buy a duplex house solely as an investment property rather than as a first home. If this is the case, you'll be sharing the house with other renters.

Pros and cons of living in a duplex

Duplexes, like most rental properties, come with both pros and cons.

Pros

Modern high quality luxurious kitchen
You'll only have to share a kitchen with your housemates. Hopefully you get a kitchen as nice as this one. | Photo credit: Bill Wilson

Since they're only made up of two units, you'll have fewer neighbors in a duplex then you would in a larger apartment building. You'll also have your own entrance to your apartment and few-to-no shared areas such as hallways. No more worrying about if that person pacing in the hallway actually lives in your building!

Since these are shared units, duplexes typically cost less than similarly sized single-family homes available on the rental market. Still, they come with private kitchens and large spaces, and they often include a yard. Another perk is that you can share any costs involved with yard upkeep with your next-door neighbor.

If you're the type of person that likes to have other people living close to you, you'll be happy that there's someone living in the same building as you. If you get spooked and none of your housemates are home, just knock on your neighbor's door.

Cons

Child moving the lawn
Make sure you know who's responsible for lawn care. | Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Although neighbors can provide a sense of security, they can also keep you up at night or throw their eggshells in your yard (yes, this happened to me). If you don't like the people living in the other half of the duplex, you might find yourself glaring at them through the shared wall.

While it's nice to have access to a yard, you might be responsible for yard work such as mowing the grass. Make sure to find out what you are responsible for before signing an agreement or moving in.

How to make living in a duplex a good experience

Making friends with your neighbors
Introduce yourself to your neighbors — you might even make some friends! | Photo credit: Colin and Sarah Northway

As any real estate agent will tell you, your living experience largely depends on how much effort you put into making it a positive one. Since you'll be sharing a wall with your neighbors, it's a good idea to introduce yourself. This way, you'll feel more comfortable asking them to turn down the music or borrow a corkscrew.

Since you are sharing outdoor spaces with the other people in the house, find out who is responsible for what upkeep before moving in. Does the landlord take care of the lawn? Or are renters responsible for dividing and conquering? To stay on your neighbors' good side, make sure to take care of shared spaces including yards and porches. If you make a mess, clean it up. All of the rules that apply to living with housemates also apply to your duplex neighbors.