Apartment types

What is a Penthouse Apartment?

Rob Whiting
Boom Team

What You Need to Know About Penthouse Apartments

Penthouse apartments have long been considered to be the height of luxury apartment living in New York City. From multi-million dollar listings to Carrie and Big’s iconic penthouse apartment in the second Sex and the City movie, this unit has always been associated with wealth and opulence.

In the USA, the first recorded penthouse was built in the 1920s, when the Plaza Hotel constructed a rooftop apartment that overlooked Central Park. The subsequent popularity and high demand caused the rapid development of these high-end units all over the city in the following years.

Today, you can find penthouse apartments in crowded urban areas of New York, particularly in SoHo, Tribeca, and West Village.

What is a Penthouse Apartment?

Traditionally, a penthouse apartment refers to a unit that is situated on the top floor of a high-rise building. These apartments usually take up the whole area, and they will also feature some type of private outdoor space such as a terrace.

The layout of a penthouse apartment may differ depending on the available space and the vision of the architect. Some units may have a similar layout to a 2-bedroom apartment, while others may resemble a duplex in that there is an upper floor.

Since penthouse apartments are equated with a high-end lifestyle, you will find expensive fixtures and furnishings that you won’t often find in other types of apartments, such as fireplaces, oversized windows, high ceilings, large kitchens, living rooms, and a master bedroom. Most penthouses also have a private high-speed elevator that only the residents can use. In terms of layout, the penthouse can resemble a classic six when it comes to the emphasis on luxury.

The Modern Penthouse Apartment

While most people will imagine the aforementioned definition of penthouse by default, there has been some evolution of the term over the past few years. Today, even if you search for a penthouse apartment in New York, you might come across terms such as “sky loft” and “triplex penthouse”, and you might notice that units that are labeled as “penthouse” are not situated on the top floor.

According to Steve Gold, a real estate agent with the luxury apartment group Corcoran, the term “penthouse” has moved away from the traditional meaning and is now more commonly used by brokers to describe a unit that is “set back”, or has space for a terrace. Going by this definition, this means that a building can have more than one penthouse. The term can also be used to describe units that have amenities that make them “more luxurious” compared to other units in a building.

Since the terminology is only popular between real estate agents and brokers, it can be confusing for the average renter.

Benefits of a Penthouse Apartment

Amazing views, privacy, and status are some of the benefits that you can enjoy when you rent a penthouse apartment.

A View of the Skyline

Most penthouse apartments are built with the surroundings in mind, with the goal of giving the renter an unobstructed view of the city around them. Many developers deliberately choose locations that will increase the value of the unit in terms of the view. In NYC, penthouses that have a view of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, or the Empire State Building have a premium price compared to other penthouses.

Modern Furnishings

Property managers know that renters who can afford a penthouse will also want the latest furnishings, from high-end appliances to luxury decor. This is why you’ll rarely find an unfurnished penthouse to rent. Since renters are paying a premium for convenience and comfort, most penthouses are ready for occupancy from the get-go.

Unique Amenities

In order to increase the value of penthouse apartments and set them apart from similar listings, property managers will also include unique touches. It’s not uncommon to find penthouse listings with walk-in showers, full-service home gyms, a complete office, or even a Jacuzzi tub!


If you’re a person who values your privacy, then a penthouse apartment might be perfect for you. Since it occupies a whole floor, you won’t need to worry about nosy neighbors or unexpected guests. Renters are also given exclusive elevator access that requires a special key or code to access the floor.

Elevated Status

There is no denying that renting a penthouse apartment comes with a certain status. Aside from the great view and spacious layout, any additional amenities such as a Jacuzzi or entertainment room are perfect for get-togethers. Don’t be surprised if your apartment becomes to go-to location for hosting parties and gatherings!

What to Consider Before Renting a Penthouse Apartment

Even if you could afford the lease, there are some things to think about before signing on the dotted line of your new lease.

Huge Price Tag

While most people have a vague idea that penthouses are expensive, you might not fully appreciate how expensive they can be. According to Rentcafe, the average rent price for luxury apartments in NYC will range from around $4,500 to $5300 per month. However, for penthouse apartments in highly-desirable areas, the price tag can skyrocket! If you’re renting in areas such as Central Park West or the Upper East Side, you can find listings going for $75,000 a month or more.

For the crème de la crème of penthouses in New York, there is a unit in Tribeca that’s going for a staggering $116,00 a month (or $1.4 million dollars per year). That’s not even counting the $500,000 deposit, first month’s advance rent, and broker’s commissions!

Limited Location Choices

When you consider the target market for penthouses, you’ll understand why most units are located in urban areas. If you want to live in the heart of the city and be close to the action, then penthouse life is perfect for you. However, if you prefer living somewhere that’s quieter and more laidback, you might have a hard time finding a penthouse unit that is for rent.

Harsh Weather

The tradeoff of having great views in your penthouse is that your home will be exposed to elements since it is located so high up. Your home will be exposed to hotter temperatures during the summer and colder weather during the winter. You will also be exposed to stronger rain and snowfall. Depending on the time of the year, this means that the outdoor spaces might not be usable at all.

Practical Issues

While having an exclusive high-speed elevator sounds awesome, you should think about what would happen if there is an emergency, a power outage, or if the elevator breaks down. Is there a backup elevator that you can use, or will you need to walk down dozens of stairs to leave your apartment?

Is a Penthouse Apartment Right for Me?

As penthouse apartments are marketed as exclusive apartments, they are also right for a smaller, more exclusive clientele. If you are able to pay a premium rent for the added space, luxurious trappings, and other benefits, then you should consider getting a penthouse apartment.

However, if a penthouse apartment is out of your price range, you should consider getting a 2-bedroom apartment or a classic six instead. While you won’t be getting the views or the exclusive elevator access, you will still be getting a spacious apartment that’s situated in desirable locations in New York.

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