What is subletting? Subletting is an arrangement in which someone rents a home from someone else who is already renting the property. It can be a lifesaver for both tenants seeking short-term digs, as well as those who must vacate their rental (temporarily or permanently) before their lease is up. Solution: subletting!
Let’s say, for instance, you have a one-year lease, but you get a job offer in another city six months into your lease. You could break your lease—that is, if your landlord allows it—or you could find someone to rent your apartment from you, and you become this person’s landlord (technically sublandlord).
Although subletting might seem like an easy way to get out of a lease on short notice, it could leave you on shaky legal ground if you don’t handle subletting appropriately. Read on to find out more about the pros and pitfalls of subletting and how to protect yourself.
Sublet vs. rental: What’s the difference?
Subletting is different from traditional renting because it adds another layer to the tenant-landlord relationship. If you rent a home, you rent from the property owner. You typically pay a security deposit, sign a lease, and pay your rent directly to the property owner or the property’s representatives.
Subletting is more like a sandwich. If you’re renting a home from the property owner and then subletting it to someone else, you’re in the middle between your subtenant and your landlord.
What are the benefits of subletting?
- Not having to break your lease. Breaking a lease can be an expensive proposition. You may have to pay a hefty fee or continue paying rent until your landlord finds another renter, which is expensive and frustrating.
- Not paying for an empty apartment. It seems silly to pay rent on a place that’s not occupied. Finding a subtenant allows you to recoup at least some of your rental costs.
- Having a built-in house sitter. If you find a trustworthy subtenant, you can leave your furnishings behind, knowing that someone’s there to keep an eye on things and deal with property-related emergencies.
What are the drawbacks to subletting?
It comes down to one word: liability.
“As a landlord, you’re not crazy about the idea of a subtenant, because you have someone in between you and the person who’s occupying your space,” says William C. Vogel, president of Vogel Advisors in Royal Oak, MI. “As a tenant, you’re still liable for the lease. If the subtenant doesn’t pay, you still have to make the payment.”
Liability issues go beyond monthly payments, though. Leases typically also address the overall condition of the property you’re leasing.
“The obligation is that you’re going to get the house, or the apartment, back in the same or better condition than you found it, and the risk is really significant with the wrong subtenant,” says Vogel.
If your subtenant trashes the kitchen or forgets to maintain the pool, it could cause thousands of dollars in property damage. Who’s on the hook for that? Often, the person in the middle.
Before you sublet your apartment, Vogel recommends you try a couple of alternatives first. The first option is to find a new tenant to present to your landlord. This may work better if you’re renting from a property owner instead of an apartment management company, but it can’t hurt to try in either scenario.
Essentially, you find a new tenant who is willing to sign a brand-new lease. The tenant should meet your landlord’s requirements in terms of credit and rental history. Ideally the landlord says yes, and you’re released from your lease (and potential liability).
Another option is to find someone who is willing to finish your lease. You have six months left, and the new tenant is willing to sign the lease for six months. Note: Such an agreement doesn’t automatically relieve you of liability. Vogel recommends including language in the assignment that specifically relieves you of liability.
If those options don’t work, though, subletting may be your best alternative.
How to protect yourself when subletting
Brian Davis, director of education for Spark Rental in Baltimore, recommends starting by reviewing your lease.
“Some leases include a clause prohibiting subletting, and others have a clause requiring the landlord’s written approval before the tenant can sublet,” Davis says. Even if your lease prohibits subletting, though, Davis still recommends asking your landlord.
“Most landlords are amenable, on the condition that the sublessee qualifies just like any other tenant,” he says.
If your landlord won’t budge, you can check out your local laws about subletting. Some states and cities have laws that state landlords can’t prevent subletting to qualified renters.
If your landlord is on board, there are some additional steps you should take to protect yourself:
- Screen your subtenant. Don’t just take the word of a friend or relative on this person being wonderful. Check references. Run a background check. Do your due diligence to ensure you have someone who is responsible and financially stable.
- Sign a subletting agreement. There are sample agreements online, or you could consult with a lawyer. Your subletting agreement should clearly spell out how long you’re subletting the space, how much rent is, when rent is due, and how the property should be maintained.
- Get a security deposit. A security deposit can help cover any damage that occurs while someone else is occupying the space.
Subletting isn’t perfect, but if you get everything in writing and look for a responsible tenant, it could free you up to pursue other opportunities.
The post What Is Subletting? How to Sublet and Not Get Burned appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.