Apartment or Single Family Rental: Which is Best for You?

by Steve CookJanuary 18, 2016

Did you know that there are more rental homes—known as “single family rentals”—than there are apartment buildings in the US? Actually, over the last decade, single family rentals have increased much faster than apartment buildings due to the 5 million-plus foreclosures that investors converted into rentals. Today there are more than 15 million single-family rentals to choose from.

The new rentals make the single family option a viable alternative in virtually every major housing market in the nation. If you have a job that keeps you moving around, or if you just prefer the flexibility of renting, a single family rental just might be the answer. If you have never rented one before, there are some big differences between rental houses and apartments that you should consider.
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One large difference is their respective markets. Apartments are primarily designed for single or couples without children. They are located to be accessible to commuters and shopping. Though many are rented by small groups of singles, most single family rentals are ideal for families. They are more likely to be near schools, playground, and open spaces.


For the same size unit (i.e. one bedroom, two bedrooms, etc.) you’ll pay more for a house. On the other hand, you’ll be getting more space indoors and outdoors than you get with an apartment. Many tenants love the feeling of living in a neighborhood; in fact, many families view single family rentals as “stepping stones” to owning their own home.

Arms-length management.

Compared to apartments, where the management office is downstairs or down the hall, managers of single family rentals can be a half hour drive or more away. Many are owned by individuals who manage the property themselves. Others are managed professionally by companies that specialize in rental houses, and their charges can be scattered all over town. Thus, the single family tenant must be prepared to handle emergencies that can arise, like kitchen fires, plugged toilets and flooded basements just like a homeowner.
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In fact, many single family rental contacts require tenants to handle minor maintenance tasks like cutting the grass, raking leaves and shoveling snow. Landlords or their managers are responsible for larger tasks like clearing out gutters, repairing or replacing appliances, servicing heating and air conditioning systems, and more. If they are not diligent, you are the one who will shiver through the night when the furnace breaks down. In an apartment building, you never encounter these issues.


Generally, single family rentals are pet friendlier than apartments, though in recent years many apartment owners have loosened up and now allow smaller dogs and cats. Even these, though, are better off in rental homes. They usually come with accessible front and back yards, residential roads for taking a walk, nearby open spaces, next door pals and more interior space.


If the social aspects of renting are important to you, you’re probably better off in an apartment building that has a fitness center, pool, other common areas and a schedule of social events. However, even though you rent, you can build friendships within your new neighborhood with a little effort.


Most single family rental landlords will have your electricity and gas metered, and they will require you to pay the monthly charges. You’ll be responsible for your own telephone, cable, and Internet.
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Some apartments require tenants to pay for parking and each unit may have a limited number of parking spaces. Driveways and garages in single family rentals can usually handle a family’s parking needs.

Interior design.

Just because a rental home looks like a home doesn’t mean you can treat it like it’s your home. Some single family rental landlords paint their walls and pick the colors of their carpets so they don’t show dirt. Their décor is institutional; don’t expect granite counter tops. They may or may not have rules regarding how much you can alter your environment.

Your landlord.

While most apartment buildings are owned by faceless corporations and managed by large companies, some single family rentals are also owned by large investment companies. However, most are owned and managed by individuals or couples who have just one or two rental properties that provide them extra income. Thus, your rental experience will greatly depend on the quality of your relationship with your landlord. Be a good tenant and create a friend who will make your tenure in his or her house a pleasant one.

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About The Author
Steve Cook
Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch. He is a member of the board of the National Association of Real Estate Editors and writes for several leading Web sites, including Inman News. From 1999 to 2007 he was vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Realtors.