City Life, Tips & Tricks

The Smart Renter’s Guide to Subletting

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We’ve got great tips for subletting, but we’re no replacement for professional legal counsel. For specific recommendations and legal review, call a lawyer.

There’s plenty of renting jargon to confuse new and seasoned renters alike, and one word in particular can stump even the most experienced renter: subletting. Knowing what this means–and how it’s different from renting or holding a lease takeover–can save you not only from embarrassment, but from legal implications that can result in huge costs, lost landlord references, and even eviction.

Whether you’re looking to sublet your apartment for the first time, or need a brush-up on the legal side, we’re here to help with a comprehensive guide to subletting, covering everything from definitions to how you should find a good subletting candidate.

What Does Subletting Mean?

If you’ve ever found yourself paying rent for a month despite spending the entire month not in your apartment, you probably should’ve sublet it. The legal definition of subletting describes it as being a subtenant to an existing tenant or renter. In other words, a sublet allows someone to lease a space through an existing tenant instead of directly through a landlord, in which the renter functions as a middleman.

How Does Subleasing Work?

When entering a sublet agreement, you should have exactly that: a written, signed agreement between the tenant and the subletter. You can find a basic template for a subletting agreement online, but even more customized agreements will echo the same ideas: when you’re a subletter, you don’t have the same rights (or the same responsibilities) as a tenant.

One of the key parts of this is how rent is paid. While a subletter will still pay rent, that money must go through the renter (unless agreed upon otherwise with the landlord). Overall, this means the renter is financially responsible if the subletter doesn’t pay rent, as they’re still expected to pay it. If a subletter doesn’t pay rent, they can’t be evicted. But if a tenant doesn’t pay rent to their landlord, they absolutely can be. Some landlords will accept terms that allow the subletter to pay them directly, but standard agreements requires the tenant to pay rent directly.

That also means the subletter is not responsible for the maintenance agreed to in the lease, unless stipulated in their subletter agreement. If a subletter causes damage to the unit that dips into the security deposit, the tenant will lose the money–not the subletter.

What it Means to Sublet vs. Rent

The key distinction between subletting and renting lies in financial responsibility. All security deposits, rent, and administrative costs are owed by a renter. But a subletter only owes the agreed upon rent to the tenant–which may be lower or higher than the rent stipulated in their lease terms. They are not responsible for any security deposits or administrative fees required by a landlord in the lease agreement, unless stipulated in the subletter agreement.

A renter may go directly to their landlord for maintenance or rent payment, but a subletter does not. In a sublet, the tenant acts as a middleman between the subletter and the landlord, though these rules are sometimes flexible when signing the sublet agreement, and may depend on the subletting terms stated on the tenant’s lease (more on that legalese below).

Sublet vs. Lease Takeover

A lease takeover and a sublet, while they often may happen as a result of the same circumstances, are very different. In a lease takeover, the new party takes over the terms of the lease, including rent, security deposit, and administrative fees, in exchange for being the listed party on the lease agreement. When a lease takeover occurs, the original tenant is released of responsibilities related to the lease when the new tenant signs.

Lease takeovers are typical when a tenant is leaving their unit permanently, but does not want to break the lease. While lease takeovers are much rarer than sublets, they essentially allow a tenant who otherwise would have to pay excessive fees or continue paying unwanted rent to find a replacement for themselves who would gladly agree to the same terms. Not every landlord is open to lease takeovers, but if it is an option and you don’t plan to return to your unit, it may be in your financial favor.

How Do I Know if I Can Sublet My Unit?

When finding out if you can sublet your home, the first place you should look is your local laws. Some states require you to obtain permission from your landlord to sublet, others require subletting to be an option (and in those states, any provisions in your lease saying otherwise are null and void). Start with state laws, then check city. If you live in a larger city, you may find the laws around subletting are stricter, or just require more details than what’s required on the state level.

Next up, check your lease. If you live in a state that requires your landlord’s permission to sublet, it will state in your lease whether subletting is permitted. If what your lease says contradicts with local law, it’s time to talk to a lawyer. Flip, a rental marketplace for sublets and lease takeovers, offers great advice on the legal side of subletting on their blog that may be able to help before getting a lawyer involved.

When Should You Sublet Your Unit?

Subletting your apartment makes perfect sense if you’re going to be out of the unit for more than a month, but don’t want to break your lease. It’s also a fair option if you’re leaving most of your furniture and some of your possessions behind, as many people who sublet may not have the extensive furniture necessary to furnish a whole apartment.

When Should You Be a Subletter?

Signing a sublet agreement is a great option if you want semi-permanent housing without the long-term commitment of a lease. For this reason, it’s extremely popular among college students, who often use sublets if they’re planning to spend a semester abroad or transfer to a new university.

If you’re new to the area and aren’t sure where you’d like to live yet, subletting is also an excellent way to establish a home base without getting stuck in a permanent housing situation that makes you unhappy.

The Legal Implications of Subletting

As outlined earlier, not everyone is legally allowed to sublet their unit, but these legal implications are for those who are legally permitted to sublet.

Even when you’ve entered a sublet agreement as the renter, your name is still on the lease, and that means you’re still legally responsible for what your subletter does while living in your unit.

If you’re leaving furniture or personal property behind in your unit, you do put yourself at risk of theft and damage–which can be rather hard to prove, unless these items are individually identified as yours in your sublet agreement.

On top of your personal property, you should be concerned about impersonal property, like your unit itself. If your subletter damages the space, that damage will be coming out of your security deposit. And if the damages exceed the deposit, you’ll be held financially responsible.

Above all, you have to worry about paying rent. Since you’re the middleman, you owe the rent, whether your subletter pays it or not. This is why it’s so important to check references (more on that below) and run a background check on your subletting candidate if you can. Ultimately, you are responsible for whatever your subletter does, so it’s up to you to make sure they’re the best tenant possible.

How to Sublease an Apartment

Before you get ahead of yourself and print out a sublet agreement, here’s every step you should follow to sublease your home.

  1. Make sure you’re allowed to sublet. In addition to reviewing local laws and your lease, now is a good time to communicate to your landlord that you’ll be leaving temporarily, and a subletter will be taking over. They may have a subletter agreement they’d like you to use, or provisions they’d like to see included in your version of the agreement.
  2. Find a great sublet candidate (more on how to do this below). You can use sites like Flip, Craigslist, and even Facebook marketplace to advertise your sublet. Once you’ve received a few candidates, review and narrow down to your favorite.
  3. Set up your sublet agreement. Write out your agreement and sign it alongside the subletter. If you’d like a good faith deposit to establish your subletter’s intent, now is the time to ask for it.
  4. Go to your landlord for final approval. You should collect all correspondence with your landlord throughout the subletting process, but this stage is particularly crucial. Some landlords will want to perform background and credit checks on the tenant to ensure they’re up to scruff, or just meet them and give them the okay.
  5. Once your landlord gives the okay, start subletting. Make sure to get the final approval from your landlord in writing (email is fine, too). Once they’re okay with it, your subletter can move in whenever they were scheduled to do so in their subletter agreement.

How to Find and Vet a Good Subleasing Candidate

Setting up a sublet agreement is half the battle–finding a good subletter who won’t let you down is a task that’s even more labor intensive, and has even more risk if you get it wrong. But before you can find the right candidate, you need to find candidates to choose from in the first place. Check out these sites to find a subletter:

  • Flip. The gold standard in finding a subletter is Flip, a service that allows you to post a listing, vet candidates, and create your legally-binding sublet agreement all in the same place. If you’re committed to finding candidates that are only the best, start here.
  • Craigslist. Quantity over quality is the motto of finding sublet candidates on Craigslist. You’ll find plenty of interested subletters by posting a listing here, but prepare yourself to weed through to find the best.
  • NextDoor. Keeping your search local is best done with NextDoor. Post your listing here to find candidates who are already in the neighborhood and can come by to see your unit easily. Bonus: moving isn’t hard for them if they already live nearby!
  • Local community groups. If you want to limit your search to something more granular, Facebook groups may be a good place to look. Find communities for just your college or company, and post in there about seeking a subletter. Chances are, members had to pass some kind of check to be a member of your community, so half the work is done for you if you limit your search to that more specific pool.

Once you’ve got a list of candidates to work off of, it’s time to start vetting them. You likely already have a few things in mind that will help narrow the field, like a specific gender, employment status, or age range of your ideal subletter. Once you’ve narrowed the pool to just the eligible candidates, start asking deeper questions, like:

  • How clean do you normally keep your home?
  • What has your living situation been for the past few months?
  • Why are you subletting instead of renting?

If you’re subletting a room in a shared unit, you may want to get the approval of the other tenants (though you aren’t legally required to do so if subletting is allowed in your lease). Your roommates can ask more specific questions about your potential subletter’s habits to make sure they’re a good fit in the home.

With their responses in hand, narrowing down the pool of applicants to just one or two should be easy. You want someone who’s responsible, able to pay the bills, and will treat your home with care. Double-check their answers by asking for one or two references. Roommates and past landlords are the ideal references, but employer or personal references also work in a pinch. No matter what kind of references they provide, make sure to check them out.

Once the references have been checked, it’s time for the final step, and this is one your landlord may cover for you: a background and/or credit check. Flip has these checks built in to make the decision process easier for you, but if you’re on your own and are taking the expense out of your own pocket, you can use a system like BackgroundChecks.com to get a clear picture of any unsavory behavior. If they pass, it’s time to sign your agreement: you’re ready to start subletting.

Whether you’re the renter or the subletter, navigating the world of subletting is confusing. But one part of the process that doesn’t have to be is moving. When it comes time to move into your sublet, you can count on Dolly for affordable, easy-to-navigate moving help. We’ll connect you with a local, background-checked and vetted pickup truck owner who’s ready to help with your move, all on your schedule. With Dolly by your side, you can start your sublet off on the right foot.

Miranda is the Marketing Coordinator at Dolly. She’s moved nine times in the past six years, and while she’s grateful for the moving expertise, she’s hoping she doesn’t need to move a tenth time anytime soon.

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