When you want to move to a new place, it can get confusing when you think of the real estate terminology out there. You might hear multi-family home, single unit apartments, efficiency apartments, and so much more.

As you're scrolling through the many options you ask yourself, "exactly what is a duplex? How is it different than the traditional apartment complex?

Duplexes are becoming more popular for extended and very close families. With that, savvy landlords who want to capitalize on the big cities choose them first.

Understanding duplexes is hard, though. Here's what you need to know:

What Is a Duplex Apartment?

Duplex houses are often confused with twin homes. Typically, it's defined as a dwelling occupied by two families living side by side. There is only one building, but two dwelling units or single-family homes inside the space.

Ultimately, this type of two-family dwelling means that there are two floors (one on top of the other). Sometimes, a duplex goes side by side instead of being stacked. Regardless, duplex homes share walls with one family occupying each one like a single-family home. Each unit has its own entrance, and renting a duplex is similar to any other apartment.

Duplex Features

It's crucial to understand the features of a duplex. They include:

  • Both apartment units in the duplex feature a separate entrance. The two separate units have the same space inside (square footage).
  • Duplexes are classified this way when there are two units on one lot that share one common wall. Therefore, renting a duplex means that there are two homes, you rent/own one and another family has the other apartment.
  • Renting them individually ensures that you save money on mortgage bills.
  • You have one neighbor, and each unit features separate entrances.
  • They could have an in-unit washer/dryer setup.
  • You both share an outdoor space.

What's the Difference Between a Duplex, Triplex, and Quadruplex?

The biggest difference between a duplex and other apartment styles is the number of neighbors. A triplex and fourplex/quadruplex aren't the same as duplex apartments because a duplex apartment has two units, with the others having three and four units, respectively. With more units in the apartment, there are more neighbors and more shared walls.

How to Find Duplex Apartments

Starting a search for a duplex apartment  is easy with the tips below:

Start Searching Early

When you're searching for a duplex house or apartment, timing is crucial. You should give yourself enough time to hunt for a new apartment.

That way, you can handle and plan for all other details necessary for the move. This includes moving your belongings, buying furniture, and taking apartment tours. Make sure that you check out both units if they're open. The other unit could have something better than what the first one does.

Many duplexes have a single owner who turns into the landlord, allowing you to rent either unit as your apartment.

Know What You Want

Every duplex apartment hunt is unique as the renter requires different things. Your preferences dictate your search for the best duplexes and apartment options.

Though you've narrowed down the apartment search and are focused on duplexes, it's time to trim the list of options more.

Create a list of your apartment amenities that you want. From there, you can lower the options of duplex apartments that have what you need.

The list should always include basic amenities, such as enough square footage in each of the units and a good layout. Remember, check the other unit if it's open to ensure that you get the right one.

Other apartments might have more outdoor space or have a more house-like feel. It's important to check various units before deciding on one and signing a lease agreement.

Find Online Listings

You can find apartment listings in local newspapers and by driving around. However, apartment hunting often starts online. There are tons of platforms out there, and you can narrow down your search to just duplex building styles.

With so many options and thousands of listings, it can take hours to figure out what is out there. That's why you should scroll through the categories and narrow your search with a filter. You get just what you want to see!

Set Up Tours for Apartment Buildings

Once you find a duplex apartment you like, schedule a tour. Typically, duplex apartment tours allow you to see if that place is a good fit for you. Duplex rentals should be in good condition. Try to bring someone with you and have them to go the other side of the shared wall and yell. That way, you can ensure that there's a sound barrier.

Though they should feel like a single-family home, remember that you're not alone. The term "duplex" indicates that there is another person/family living beside you.

If you feel that you could live there, ask the landlord questions. That way, you get a better idea of what to expect when you move in. This list of questions can help you:

  • What credit scores must I have to rent here?
  • How do you manage parking?
  • How much is the rent?
  • What is included in the rent (utilities, etc.)?
  • Is the unit pet-friendly?

The questions you ask might be different based on your situation. Make sure that you have a list ready so that you don't forget anything.

It's also a good idea to be wary of rental fraud. If the property manager or landlord demands money during your tour, this is a bad sign. With that, watch for sketchy behavior to avoid being duped.

Apply for and Sign the Lease for Your One Unit

Once you've scoured the duplex buildings in your area and find one that you like, start the application process.

Here, you should receive an application and must fill it out completely, submitting it to the property manager or online. Typically, you should do this in front of the manager and have these things with you:

  • References
  • Income proof
  • Rental history proof
  • One form of ID (Social Security card, state-issued ID, passport, driver's license)
  • Application fee

The prospective landlord reviews the application. Don't be surprised if they do a credit or background check to see your credit scores and history.

When you're approved, you get the lease agreement. Make sure that you read it thoroughly and understand the rules. This is a legally binding document, so you can't say you didn't know something that was clearly stated in the terms.

How Is a Duplex Apartment Building Different in New York City?

In NYC, there's a different real estate definition of "duplex." It's a unit with a common wall, but this is a two-level apartment in NYC. These are often connected with stairs or an elevator. Therefore, the neighbor has access to other living spaces, which could be a turn-off.

Sometimes, they are stacked, so there are two floors connected within the building. This is much different than traditional single-family homes!

Benefits of a Duplex

There are tons of advantages of living in a duplex, such as:

  • Good Location - Typically, a duplex costs less to rent and puts you in a better location. Since the cost is shared between the two units, the cost of living is often lower.
  • Shared Maintenance Costs - Duplexes mean you can share costs between yourself and the neighbor. It makes it a more affordable option and can include yard work, maintenance, clean-up, and renovations.
  • Live Closely to the Neighbor - With duplex units, you're in close proximity to the other person, making it great if you have a beloved family member or friend.
  • Becoming More Popular - Compared to efficiency and studio apartments, a duplex is much more popular.

Drawbacks of a Duplex

Though living in a duplex can be nice, some people feel that living in a duplex isn't great. Here are some of the downfalls:

  • Privacy Boundaries - Depending on the neighbor, you may have to set privacy boundaries, especially in larger building duplexes where they are stacked.
  • Shared Spaces - Though there are separate entrances, many duplexes have shared spaces, such as the garage and front/back yard.
  • Increased Responsibilities - Compared to an apartment building, duplexes are often privately owned, so the landlord doesn't hire someone to take care of maintenance.


If a single-family home isn't right for you, duplex buildings might be the next best thing. What is a duplex? It's a multi-family housing option that works well for close-knit families and friends. This style of residential building has the same comforts as an apartment, but there are only two different units instead of many others.

Though it can be a bit confusing and isn't the same as a twin home, it's something to consider, especially in larger cities like NYC.

David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!