Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Your Apartment Is Not a Condo

It really, really irks me to hear people talk about their condo. "Oh yes, my condo in the city has great views." “My condo comes with two parking spaces, so you can drive over anytime.” "Hey baby, why don't you come back to my condo?" It irks me because what these people have are not condos. They are fucking apartments.

When I was very young, we lived in a condo. It was basically a house that had been glued to another house. My grandma also has a condo. It is a house glued to two other houses, one on each side.

This is what a condo is. A condo is not a little box carved out of an even bigger box with other little boxes in front, behind, above, below and alongside. That is an apartment. A-part-ment. They are “a part” of the “ment.”

The only reason anyone says “condo” when they should say “apartment” is that they are trying to communicate the fact that they own their apartment. They want to bask in the prestige of owning real estate Well, whoopdeedoo, you send an outlandish check to a bank instead of a landlord each month, in addition to putting a bunch of money down on a shitty investment that won’t give you anything like the return you expect. Well done, you.

When you buy an orange at the grocer, does it magically transform into something other than an orange? No, it’s still a fucking orange. We even have this handy grammatical way to indicate that change of ownership: the possessive. Now it’s “your orange,” but it’s still a fucking orange. It’s not a “condo.” The English language, including slang, has about 50 synonyms for “car,” but none of them differentiate between the car you lease and the car you own. It’s “your car,” “your orange,” and “your apartment.”

By the way, you can totally rent a condo, which my parents did with ours after we moved to a house. Were we renting our condo whilst our tenants were renting an apartment? No. No, no, no. Besides, *someone* owns your apartment, even if it isn’t you. If the landlord moved into the apartment himself, would it suddenly become a condo? No! It would be just what it always was: an apartment.

Granted there are gray areas. It’s not totally insane to consider my current home a condo, but I still refer to it as “my apartment” because I don’t want to be a pretentious douche.

Here’s a pretty reliable test to determine whether your “residence that shares one or more sides with another residence” is an apartment or a condo:

Question: Do you have your own front door? That is, do you have your own, private, individual door that leads from the street to your residence?

If yes, congratulations! You are the proud resident of a condo.

If no, you live in a fucking apartment. Deal with it.

With love,

S. Misanthrope


  1. In most regions of the country, the house glued to another house is called a townhouse, and a condo refers to an apartment you own, but pay a fee to some sort of community manager to keep up amenities and whatnot. Perhaps a townhouse in some sort of community where you pay for amenities like a pool or fitness center would be a condo. It's the paying separately for amenities in addition to real estate you own that makes it a condo. So an apartment can be both an apartment and a condo at the same time. Look @ the wikipedia entry on "condominium."

  2. I can only speak for three regions of the country myself, and all used condo and apartment the way I do, with no use of the term "townhome." I kind of like that word, though, so maybe I will use it.

    As for what makes a condo a condo under the law, you are not precisely correct. In a typical apartment building, the entire building and all units therein belong to one legal entity, usually a company. Alternatively the builder of the apartment building could sell individual units to various buyers, with the communal areas owned jointly be all unit owners. These are condos. Owners may or may not pay a fee to an association (though in practice they most always do) and there may or may not be amenities of some kind, but the key thing is a mix of individually owned and co-owned property.

    I'm sure laws vary and there is probably some subtle legal distinction between condos, homeowners associations, and co-ops, but what the fuck, I'm not a lawyer, I'm just a pissed off blogger. But it sounds to me like a condo may be an apartment or a townhouse or a house.

    So now if someone tells you in casual conversation that they live in a condo, what have they told you? You don't know what kind of structure they live in, beyond that it involves some shared property. You don't know if it has any amenities. You don't know if they own it or rent it. They've told you far less than they would have if they had said they live in an apartment. But they have *suggested* a whole slew of things that are probably not true or not relevant to you unless you are their lawyer.

    Further, no one associates "condo" with this legal definition you cite. Perhaps in regions not California, not the Midwest, and not the Carolinas, they equate condo and apartment. Wikipedia certainly agrees with you there, so I am willing to concede that point. But Wikipedia ALSO points out that "condo" colloquially means "an apartment that you own," which I maintain is a pointless and pretentious thing to automatically state when speaking of your abode.

    Therefore I maintain that, in most cases, it is snooty to say "my condo."

    I do admit that your apartment *may* be a condo. I ought to have titled this "You Live in an Apartment."