If you're planning on buying an apartment in the near future you may encounter a few run-ins with the terms co-op and condo. Understanding the distinction between the two terms prior to your apartment hunt will help you determine the type of property you are interested in purchasing and in turn, narrow down your search.
Both types of ownership are associated ownership, something that as a single-family home owner you may be unfamiliar with preceding your upcoming venture. The fundamental difference is the type of ownership. Condominium (or condos for short) are units of real estate owned independently but are part of an association that cares for common area and amenities (i.e. the lobby, courtyard, fitness center, etc.). While each association is allowed to come up with some of its own rules, the majority of condo operation as well as the foundational establishment of the property are governed by state law. Although condos are generally residential properties, the term merely refers to the associational ownership of a property, meaning condos can be commercial as well.
A co-op is governed similarly to a condo in the sense that an association takes shared responsibility for the piece of real estate. However, unlike a condo, each individual unit is not owned by a sole proprietor but rather the association collectively owns the entire property. Each individual is granted the right to a "proprietary lease" of a specific unit but owns a share in the association not the property itself.