I am looking for suggestions for a word that would describe this living situation: in many Arab countries, multiple generations of families / multiple families live in the same building/house, on separate floors that function as self-contained living units, almost like apartments. They are not quite apartments, though, I think. For example, a mother and father may live on the first floor (A), while one of their sons and his wife and children live on the second (B), and another son and his family live on the third (C), etc. Each of these living spaces has its own bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, entrance, etc. They may only be connected by a stairwell.

I don't feel it's accurate to describe B as living "on the second floor," as this implies the family could just walk down the stairs and be in A's living room, for example. It also feels inaccurate to say B lives in a second-floor flat or apartment, because it's all really one family house, just sectioned into individual living spaces.

Any ideas? Sorry for the long description - let me know if this makes sense. Thanks so much!

  • 1
    In the U.S. there's the concept of "mother-in-law apartment" which is something like what you describe.
    – Robusto
    Nov 6, 2018 at 15:23
  • 6
    Why do you think "apartment" doesn't fit? Being "sectioned into individual living spaces" is the essential definition of being an apartment. I don't think it matters that the people living there are related (or not). Nov 6, 2018 at 17:51
  • 1
    Yes. @MarkBeadles - I’d call that a second floor apartment.
    – Jim
    Nov 6, 2018 at 18:56
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    I think you are confusing culture and architecture. If they are connected by stairwells they are separate apartments in the same building.
    – Lambie
    Jan 6, 2019 at 22:55
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    Could you clarify the following points please? 1 Are the 'apartments' connected by a communal circulation space, that is corridors, stairs and landings which are not considered to be part of the 'apartments'? 2 does each 'apartment' have its own door sealing it off from the circulation space, even if that door cannot be locked? 3 Does each 'apartment' have its own facilities such as a kitchen or bathroom?
    – BoldBen
    Jan 7, 2019 at 8:04

5 Answers 5


Perhaps you can call it a (residential) unit.



1.1 A self-contained section in a building or group of buildings.
‘one- and two-bedroom units’

‘The county council has applied for planning permission to convert the listed building into three residential units and once this has been granted will put it on to the open market.’


I think a literal translation of the Turkish term "aile apartımanı", ie. "family apartments" would fit the bill.

The units here are architecturally indistinguishable from regular apartments. The only difference is that they are mostly collectively owned by a family (traditionally registered to the family patriarch's name, but not any more after a few generations). Each apartment is occupied by a single nuclear family within the greater family tree.


The word you are looking for is multi-generational housing, but that term can be broad enough to include adult children living at home, older parents moving in with their children, purpose-built “in-law” apartments, or the situation you describe.

A stricter definition would be require at least three generations occupying the same building: parents of adult children who are themselves parents.

Any unit in a multiple occupancy dwelling can be called an apartment, even if it takes up one or more floors, so it would not be incorrect to call each unit in the house you describe as an apartment.


The best expression for this is probably either secondary suite (AmE) or annexe (BrE):

Secondary suite (or accessory dwelling unit) is an urban planning term used mainly in North American English for a self-contained apartment in an owner occupied single-family home / lot that is either attached to the principal dwelling or in a separate structure on the same property. In British English the term "annexe" is used instead. Reasons for wanting to add a secondary suite to a property may be to receive additional income, provide social and personal support to a family member, or obtain greater security. —Wikipedia

The most common expression (at least in AmE) is in-law suite (because it's usually an in-law/parent moving in to help a couple with their newborn):

An in-law suite or apartment is a private space for in-laws and parents that is usually attached to or located on the same lot as their grown child’s house. Many in-law suites are custom-built home additions, though converted garages, basements and stand-alone guest houses are also common. These types of dwellings are also referred to as “mother-in-law” suites or granny apartments.
What You Should Know Before Building an In-Law Suite


How does accommodation suit you:

A room, group of rooms, or building in which someone may live or stay.


housing, lodging, lodgings, living quarters, quarters, rooms, chambers

place, place to stay, billet

shelter, board

a roof over one's head

Informal: digs, pad

Formal: abode, residence, place of residence, dwelling, dwelling place, habitation

  • 1
    The OP is asking for a word appropriate to a specific type of living arrangement, and you have suggested one of the broadest possible terms in the language, suitable for any and all kinds of living arrangement.
    – choster
    Nov 6, 2018 at 15:45
  • @choster As you've already pointed out, there's no exact equivalent available, the OP can chose among the available alternatives for what seems right to them - or coin a new one. Nov 6, 2018 at 15:48

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