Real Estate Terms Defined: Counties and Cities and Towns, and more!

When you’re moving to a new neighborhood, it can be tricky to understand administrative divisions of your new neighborhood, especially when moving to New York other parts of the country. NYS has codified the following terms to describe the various divisions of the state.

Each of these administrative divisions may be responsible for different municipal services, so it’s important to be able to identify where, exactly, your new home is located.

In this article, we define County, City, Town, Village, Hamlet, and CDP, which are all terms you’ll hear used in the New York State real estate market.


62 counties make up NYS, 9 of which are in the OneKey MLS Regional Coverage area. (5 counties are within the boundaries of New York City and are called Boroughs.) Aside from the Boroughs (which are governed by a single NYC government), counties wield a large amount of authority through a Board of Supervisors or a County Legislature.

The center of county government is located at the county seat.

The county may be responsible for sanitation, policing, street cleaning, aspects of public health, park maintenance and nature preservation, official record keeping, building permits and regulations, neighborhood zoning and real estate development, in addition to other things. Some of these services may be handled by a more localized town or village municipality.

Excluding NYC Boroughs, Suffolk County is reportedly the largest county by population, the home to an estimated 1,500,000 people.[1]


A city is a highly autonomous, incorporated (self-governing) area which may or may not be somewhat governed by the county in which it resides. A city may have its own police, fire, sanitation, schools, parks, records, permitting, and health and welfare services.

A city is typically populated with 2,500 or more people within its fixed boundaries. Cities tend to have more urban development than towns or villages.

Most cities in New York have a Mayor and Council, who oversee financing and municipal services. A city is never governed by any aspect of a town government, though some cities are geographically located entirely within a town of the same name.

There are places with the word “City” in their name which are not cities – like Garden City and Johnson City. The newest city to be incorporated is the City of Rye in Westchester, NY, with an incorporation date of 1942.[2]

New York City is the largest city in New York, with a reported population of 8,804,190 people living in its approximately 303 square miles.[3]


A town is a major division of a county, a municipal corporation. Other states refer to these administrative divisions as townships. Towns are central to local government and may provide an array of services to residents. The town is typically run by a legislative town board made up of councilpersons and an elected supervisor. Towns vary in size and population vastly.

In New York State, everyone, unless living on a Reservation or within a City, lives in a town.

Like “City,” being labeled with ‘town’ (e.g. Muttontown) doesn’t mean it’s a town

Typically, in New York, towns are identified with Town first, such as Town of Poughkeepsie or Town of Oyster Bay. This is unlike cities and hamlets, but similar to villages.


A village is an incorporated area, typically nestled within one (or two) towns. A village has defined boundaries and provides municipal services, but whatever services are not provided by the village are provided by the town or county.

Villages are run by a mayor and a board of trustees. In addition to a mayor, a village may have a manager who performs administrative duties like supervising employees and enforcing village codes.

In order to incorporate, villages must be less than 5 square miles or be coterminous with an existing school or municipal district,  and must have at least 500 residents, and may not be part of an existing city or village. Villages can also be dissolved by the village board, and all government authority reverts back to the town.

There are 556 Villages in New York State, but the designation of the word Village in the name of a neighborhood or area, such as Greenwich Village or Middle Village, doesn’t guarantee the village is legally incorporated.

Hempstead is the largest village in NYS with more than 53,000 residents.[4]


Hamlets are not defined under New York State law. A hamlet is the term for an area that is unincorporated and has a name.

A hamlet is a community with a corresponding post office, school district, fire and water district, among others.

In NY, a hamlet might be served by postal, water, fire, and school districts of all different names. With no incorporated government, hamlets have no universally defined boundaries.

Every hamlet has one or more zip codes which allows for the post office to identify and deliver to specific addresses.

In conversation, people often refer to the hamlet or community name when asked what town they reside within. This has led to a necessary distinction in some areas of Town (upper case T, as township) and town (lower case t, as hamlet).

Census-Designated Place (CDP)

A CDP is an area identified by the United States Census Bureau as not part of a city or village, but having a locally identified name. CDPs are unincorporated and may exist across town or county borders. The boundaries of CDPs change often.

Putting it all together

When you ask your Realtor® about your house hunt, feel free to ask questions about the administrative divisions where the house is located. Realtors are local experts who understand the breakdowns of the neighborhoods in which they work. Find your Realtor® here by geographic area of expertise.

For example, you might find a home in the village of Nyack, in the Town of Orangetown, in Rockland County. Or perhaps you’re looking at a townhouse in Queens County, in the City of New York, in the hamlet of Forest Hills. No matter where you want to live, you’ll want to ask about the administrative divisions and where who is providing which municipal services to that specific area.



[2] Office of the Comptroller