High quality tenements in the Hyndland residential area of Glasgow, built 1898 – 1910.[1]
Tenements at Park Avenue and 107th Street, New York City, circa 1898–1910

A tenement is a multi-occupancy building of any sort. In Scotland it refers to flats divided horizontally in an established building type, including desirable properties in affluent areas,[1] but in other countries the term often refers to a run-down apartment building or slum building.[2]

In parts of England, especially Devon and Cornwall, the word refers to an outshot, or additional projecting part at the back of a terraced house, normally with its own roof.[3] The expression “tenement house” was coined in the United States to designate a building containing cheap rental accommodations.[4]


Gladstone's Land is a tenement from 1617 in the Old Town, Edinburgh.[5]

The term tenement originally referred to tenancy and therefore to any rented accommodation. The New York State legislature defined it in the Tenement House Act of 1867 in terms of rental occupancy by multiple households, as

Any house, building, or portion thereof, which is rented, leased, let, or hired out to be occupied or is occupied, as the home or residence of more than three families living independently of one another and doing their own cooking upon the premises, or by more than two families upon a floor, so living and cooking and having a common right in the halls, stairways, yards, water-closets, or privies, or some of them.[6]

In Scotland, it continues to be the most common word for a multiple-occupancy building, but elsewhere it is used as a pejorative in contrast to apartment building or block of flats.[7] Tenement houses were either adapted or built for the working class as cities industrialized,[8] and came to be contrasted with middle-class apartment houses, which started to become fashionable later in the 19th century. Late-19th-century social reformers in the US were hostile to both tenements (for fostering disease, and immorality in the young) and apartment houses (for fostering "sexual immorality, sloth, and divorce").[9]