When you ask people to differentiate between a condominium and an apartment, they usually base their answers on the structure itself. A condominium is, more often than not, a high-rise building filled with dozens of living spaces while an apartment is usually two to three stories high with only a handful of units. The distinction, however, gets more complicated.
This is because a “condominium” doesn’t refer to the building but rather the form of real estate ownership. The term is a combination of two Latin words: “con,” meaning “together with” and “dominium,” from which the word “dominion” comes from. Putting these meanings together, the term “condominium” means the “right to own together.”
To put this in perspective, in a condominium, everybody living in one is an owner. They own a part of the condo, which is their respective unit, so to speak. It didn’t matter how many stories a residential building had; if everybody owns a piece of the pie, it’s a condominium. An apartment can be a condominium if the terms of ownership are structured like one.
The condominium’s counterpart is rent, where the owner of the building— be it low-rise or high-rise— is the sole proprietor. Occupants are welcome to reside in its living spaces, but they don’t own a piece of it. In a condominium setting, if you “rent” a condo, it means you’re renting space from the owner of a piece of the entire condominium system.