What You Need to Know Before Subletting Your Apartment

Six tips to remain on good terms with your landlord while letting someone stay at your place.

U.S. News & World Report

What You Need to Know Before Subletting Your Apartment

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Your exciting summer travel plans are being ruined by a not-so-little thing called rent. All your souvenir buying and delicacy food eating will be seriously brought down by that monthly payment to your landlord. But what can you do about it? You’ll only be gone three months, and you need your apartment once you’re back.

Traveling isn't the only reason to sublease your apartment. Whether you’re touring Europe, moving to a new city for work or simply planning to get a new place before your lease is up, finding a temporary subtenant is an effective way to reduce the cost of living for an otherwise empty space or avoid paying a penalty for breaking a lease early.

A sublease is an agreement between a tenant and another individual, known as the subtenant, to temporarily occupy a space or part of one. Sublet apartments and houses are particularly common in college towns, where students scatter across the globe each summer for travel, study opportunities and internships, while others attending classes and working on campus in the summer need a place to stay.

If you sublet an apartment or house, know the responsibility you take on: By renting out the place you rent, you’re taking on the role of a landlord, while still being liable for costs to your own landlord if something goes wrong.

It’s also imperative to follow local subleasing laws to maintain a positive relationship with your landlord. Like most other real estate dealings, sublet laws vary by state, and they often defer to the wording in the lease you signed.

“Usually on a residential lease it just basically says there shall be no subleasing or assignment, period,” says Perry A. Phillips, a commercial real estate attorney who also works with residential landlords in Marietta, Georgia. “And sometimes it’s just silent on it.”

When in doubt, talk to your landlord about your intentions, and follow his or her preferred procedure to ensure you’re not only in the right legally but that you maintain an amiable relationship. No landlord would be pleased to find out about a secret subtenant when it comes time to repair a faucet or lock.

Following proper procedure to stay in good standing with your landlord is only half the battle. You also need to find a trustworthy subtenant who will pay rent in a timely manner and respect the space, the neighbors and the rest of the property. Here are six things you can do to successfully sublet your home.

Check your lease. Before you even think about putting an ad on Craigslist, read through your lease to know the extent of your landlord’s policy on subleasing. He or she could require notification, approval of the subtenant or outright refuse sublets.

Subleasing could be prohibited because of the type of ownership or rent. Homeowners associations or rent-controlled apartment buildings often don't allow subleases because of resident approval regulations, explains Christopher O. Stanton, an attorney specializing in landlord-tenant issues at the law firm of Deming, Parker, Hoffman, Campbell & Daly in Atlanta.

“You find [prohibitions on subleasing] a lot in condos or HOA-protected communities, where every tenant has to be vetted by the controlling board of the community,” Stanton says.

Check state laws. When a lease doesn’t specify a policy on leasing, defer to state law, though “It’s almost always addressed,” says James Newell, an attorney in Boulder, Colorado.

Statutes on subleasing vary from state to state and can give more power to either the landlord or tenant, depending on the language of the law. While some states like New York require the landlord's permission to sublet an apartment, Maryland and other states dictate a landlord must provide just cause for refusing a subtenant.

Other states have a noted lack of rules on the matter. Stanton says Georgia has no laws on subleasing, making any landlord rules on subleasing “a matter of contract.”

Talk to your landlord. Regardless of what your lease or state law requires, you should always communicate with your landlord when you intend to sublease your apartment.

Property owners are particular about what they will allow in homes they lease to tenants, so just like any painting or home improvements you want to add, tacking on or replacing a tenant isn’t going to go over well as a surprise.

“That is very likely going to result in some problems, just because of the almost universality of the provisions in leases that require the tenant get approval of the landlord,” Newell says.

Check out the subtenant. The most important thing to remember about subleasing your space is that you remain responsible for the home, even if you’re no longer living there. If your subtenant stops paying the rent, you still owe it to the landlord. Don’t think a sublease gets you off the hook completely.

“If your subtenant damages things, the landlord is going to look to you and the subtenant,” Stanton says.

Act like a landlord yourself and conduct a credit check, ask for referrals and require proof of employment. You want to be sure the sublessee will respect your home and hold up his or her end of the bargain when it comes to rent. You can also require a security deposit or first and last month's rent prior to the subtenant moving in, to reduce your costs if payment becomes an issue.

Get everything in writing. As an additional measure, act like a landlord again and have the individual sign a formal sublease agreement before handing over the keys. Your landlord may have a preferred set of forms for a sublease agreement, but you can also find free sample and customizable forms online at sites like Rocket Lawyer.

Even if the subtenant is a close friend or family member, you have to prepare for the worst-case scenario, which would be legal action for rent nonpayment. Stanton explains a signed contract will hold up far better than an oral agreement and handshake that each party remembers differently.

“What could you show them other than you standing up and swearing under oath, saying, ‘This is what it is,’” Stanton says.

To further protect your own security deposit with the landlord, take detailed photos of your apartment and any of your belongings that will remain in the space prior to the subtenant moving in. If damage occurs during the sublease, you have evidence to support your reason for taking the money out of the subtenant's security deposit.

Hold up your end of the bargain. Regardless of who’s living in your home and who your landlord is, the most important thing you can do is maintain your responsibility to the property – because you’re still on the lease.

“There are times when subtenants have paid their landlord – the tenant – but then the tenant doesn’t pay the landlord,” Phillips says.

If you’ve established that the subtenant will pay you directly, be sure you continue to make on-time payments to your landlord. If the landlord has agreed to take payments from the subtenant, confirm that the landlord is able to reach you if there is a problem with the new resident.

Subleasing isn’t a relief of responsibility but the acceptance of a whole new set of responsibilities as a temporary landlord. Few things could ruin your summer travel plans like your sublet suddenly skipping town. “The landlord can still go against you" Stanton notes. "It’ll not only be on your credit; it’ll be on the public record.”

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