Owner Occupied Duplex – On the Top or Bottom?

There are many advantages for a townhouse owner to occupy a lower duplex, or perhaps it is the top floor duplex they should seek, and while a very strong case can be made to put the owner of a townhouse on the lower floors, there are solid arguments for occupying the top two floors.  I, architect Nick Buccalo, will examine both possibilities and invite your comments on the issue.

The following assumes a 3 or more story townhouse that has rental units and one of the units is occupied by the home owner.


For the young family who have children, there are several good arguments for occupying the lower two floors in your townhouse.

  • Access to the backyard, especially if you have a swimming pool;
  • Access and use of the cellar;
  • Easy entrance and exit when bringing in groceries or strollers;
  • General convenience;
  • Don’t have to walk up so many stairs to get to one’s home;

But there are also downsides to keeping the owner-occupied duplex on the lower floors.

  • There is less sunlight;
  • There is fewer breezes;
  • You will be below tenants who occupy the upper floors, oh those foot steps;
  • Since the public stair must reach the top apartment, there is a loss of square footage in the building. Considering that square footage can equate to comfort, this loss can affect the quality of life for everyone in the building, whether acknowledged or not.
  • There is less privacy, that being on the ground and 2nd floor makes your daily living a part of the community.
  • There is access to the entire house by your tenants, from the front door to the top floor, thus not limiting access opens up the entire house for visitors or unknown people.



As hinted on, there are advantages of the upper duplex, especially nice if one doesn’t mind the extra steps and in fact welcomes them as part of a physical routine, the upper duplex has advantages those who mind the steps often ignore:

  • Better daylight and cross ventilation, making your seasons feel oh so much better.
  • Internal use of the upper stairs within the apartment, and not shared public space. This translates into a significant increase of the duplexes square footage without changing the FAR.
  • It’s quiet, you don’t hear those foot steps of your up stairs tenant, and that street noise is a bit further away.
  • It’s private, no longer do you have to worry about a crowd forming on the street in front of your house as your change cloths.
  • You have access to a roof terrace, which provides you with spectacular sunsets and moon soaked nights.
  • You have just increased your rent roll, as the ground floor rental apartment now has backyard access.
  • You increased your rent roll again as now you can offer both laundry and storage in the cellar to your tenants.
  • You don’t hear people entering and leaving all the time, or walking past your front door.
  • Your tenants will feel more independent, and can come and go on their own schedule without waking up the baby.

There are downsides too:

  • You have to walk up a flight or two of stairs, but as mentioned your heart will thank you for the exercise and so will your scale.
  • If you have a young child, toddler or baby, you’ll have to consider where to store the stroller and deal with safety concerns, many of which also occur in any duplex no matter where it is located.
  • You will have a view… no wait, that’s an advantage.  I can’t think of any other negatives.

More square footage, a roof terrace, better rents to pay for the upgrades, it’s a story of why not.  What are your thoughts?


SimpleTwig™.  Please comment and share.

One Reply to “Owner Occupied Duplex – On the Top or Bottom?”

  1. Hi Nicholas, you make some really good points in both cases, but overall it seems the benefits of the top floors outweighs the advantages. However I can’t figure out how does the owner of the top floor separate entrance work? Do you build a private access from lobby or from the first door? How about the route of egress? Are you allowed to add a door in the way of the egress stairs? PS: I am the homeowner of a top floor triplex.

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