How to Handle Subletting if Your Landlord Allows it
March 24, 2023
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Life is unpredictable.
Even if you’ve found a rental that works well for you, you can’t know the future.
Thus, you may find yourself in a situation where you must move away for a bit.
But you don’t want to break your lease because you’re planning to return, and it sounds like a friend of yours wants to take your place.
If you’re considering subletting and your landlord allows it, this is the article for you.
Let’s explore what you need to know before you sublet.
What is a Sublet Agreement?
A sublet, or sublease agreement, adds a new person to an established lease. The new tenant (also known as the subletter) replaces you when you move out (also known as the sublessor or sublessee). A sublet rental agreement is a legally binding contract, and the same lease rules and rental laws apply to everyone involved.
Consider Subletting Carefully
Subletting is risky, so it’s wise to consider other options even if your landlord allows it. It comes with the same risks as taking on a new roommate, except you won’t be there to deal with problems if they occur. And, if your subletter skips town or causes damage to the rental, you’re jointly and severally liable (along with them).
In the introductory example, we assumed your friend showed interest in taking your place. However, the person you get to sublet isn’t always someone you know well. This lack of familiarity can, of course, add stress and uncertainty to the situation.
These reasons mean you should ensure this is the right route before signing a sublet agreement.
It’s important to know that you only need to sublet if:
- You are breaking a lease you share with roommates, and at least one of them is staying behind. This is the most common reason for subletting.
- You want to return to the same apartment at some point. An example where this could be applicable is if you’re going to be gone for three months to complete an extended work project.
Breaking your lease and allowing someone new to establish a new lease may be your best option if you’re not in either of these situations. If you don’t sublet and move forward with a payment or different option, then you avoid liability that could arise if your subletter breaks the rules or owes late fees.
If You Decide to Sublet
Now, if you considered your options and still want to sublet, then here are the steps you should follow:
Check with your roommates
We know from the title and premise of this article that your landlord allows subleasing. However, you still need permission from the other tenants living with you before you add someone else to the lease. You can only change essential terms of the lease agreement if the other parties involved with the lease concur. This means that your roommates have to approve your subletter, their share of the rent, etc.
Start with friends and co-workers
If you don’t have someone in mind to take your place, ask if people you know are aware of someone looking for a temporary place to rent. Trust is critical to subletting; friends and co-workers are a good place to begin your search. Ask around at work or school and reach out to your network. You may not be able to find someone this way, but if you can, it will save you a lot of time and effort.
You’ll have to broaden your search if you don’t find a subletter among friends or co-workers. There are many ways to find a roommate online, and you can use those same services to find a short-term renter. Start with free sites like Craigslist, Circle for Roommates (if you live in New York City or L.A.), or Roomi.
Be as detailed as you can when you post on these sites. Be specific about the terms of the sublet period, including dates, monthly rent and utility costs, and include pictures. The more details you provide, the better your chances of landing a great subletter.
Know who you’re looking for
While it’s not in your best interest to be too particular, knowing the kind of renter you want and what your deal-breakers are is helpful. For instance, maybe you only want a tenant who is in school or gainfully employed, or someone who doesn’t use drugs or alcohol. Bottomline is you want someone you can trust.
Check references and conduct a background check
In addition to using interviews to get a feel for potential subletters, go the extra mile and get references and permission to conduct a background check. Regarding the background check, keep an eye out for past criminal activity or evictions. Running a credit check is also a good idea. Most likely, it will cost you around $20 to $50 to get the information, so only run these checks on your top candidate(s).
As for references, ask for two or three contacts, and be sure to get in touch with at least one prior landlord.
Remember the risks
It bears repeating that you’re taking a risk with subletting. When you rent out your space to a subletter, you’re essentially acting as a landlord. Your landlord— the person on the other end of your lease— still has every right to hold you responsible for issues. If your subletter is having noisy get-togethers, not paying rent on time, or damaging the dwelling, you’re going to be a responsible party.
Do remove valuables from your home
Don’t forget to remove anything that is of value to you. This shouldn’t be an issue if you conducted a background check and called references. However, you can never be certain. Therefore, it would behoove you to take your valuables elsewhere (maybe store them with a friend while you’re away). This doesn’t mean you should leave your place completely bare, but removing important items is a good idea.
The Sublet Agreement
Once you’ve worked through those steps, you get to the key part of the entire process: the sublet agreement.
You should have a sublet agreement ready and collect a security deposit. The contract should be signed by your subletter, you, and your landlord. If you’re not comfortable handling a security deposit yourself, you can ask your landlord to take care of that part of the deal for you. There are standard sublease agreements available online that you should use to make sure you get all the correct legalese in there.
Be as specific as possible. Here are some questions to think through as you decide on this:
- Will rent checks be sent to you or the landlord? It’s important to mention that if your subletter doesn’t pay your landlord, you will be held responsible as well. On the other hand, if your subletter gives you the rent and you don’t give it to your landlord, you could both suffer consequences, too. So, there are situations where subletters may be evicted even if they pay the sublessor on time. Typically, it may be best to have the subletter pay your landlord directly (this is part of why it’s critical to sublet to someone you trust).
- When should payment be received?
- What forms of payment are acceptable?
- If a direct deposit or electronic transfer is acceptable as a form of payment, how will you issue receipts?
- How much will the subletter be charged for a late rent payment?
- What are the consequences if the subtenant doesn’t pay rent at all?
Here’s an example statement you could include in this agreement: “Subletter shall pay monthly rent of $750, to be received by the landlord on the 1st of each month.”
The Security Deposit
States have different laws that govern security deposits. You’ll want to understand these. For instance, California requires subletters to pay the security deposit and any other fees. If this doesn’t happen, the responsibility still falls to you, the original tenant.
Furthermore, you’ll also want to know when the security deposit will be returned. For example, California requires the security deposit be returned within 21 days of the subletter moving out.
As far as amount, you probably shouldn’t charge anything over one month’s rent. You certainly don’t want to charge more than your landlord charged you. The key is to be reasonable and follow any relevant laws.
If you’ve ever rented a car, you know the importance of inspecting it before you drive it off the lot. You don’t want to be responsible for a dent you didn’t cause. The same thing applies here.
Both the sublessor and the subletter want to inspect the property and confirm what condition it’s in. On the sublease agreement, detail a list of various areas of the property (including the bedroom, floors, walls, exterior, etc.) and note the condition of each.
Along with the inspection, it’s crucial to include the original lease with your sublease because those rules still apply to the subletter.
Even if your landlord allows subletting, it’s important to understand how it works and how to approach it. It can be a tricky situation if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Work with your landlord and make sure you set everyone up for success. This article provides the foundation for you to make smart choices as you navigate subletting. Check out our tenant renting guide for other helpful tips!