You just found out you need to be away from home for an extended time. But you’re still in the middle of your lease period. Subletting your rental would be the perfect solution … but what will your landlord think?
When you sublet, although you’re still a tenant, you act as a landlord by leasing your rental unit to someone else—a subtenant. Whether you’re allowed to sublet your rental is usually addressed in the lease, and you typically have one of three options:
- You are not allowed to sublet—game over, end of story. Don’t do it!
- You are allowed to sublet. Go for it—you have free rein!
- The norm—You are allowed to sublet only after obtaining written consent of the landlord. (Landlords typically want to screen subtenants.
But what if the lease doesn’t say anything about subletting?
A rarity, but if your lease is silent on the issue, check to see whether your state has any laws on the books about subleases. And more important, just ask your landlord.
Keep in mind that your landlord can refuse your request to sublet your rental, particularly if they have a good reason. With that said, there are ways to help ensure you get your landlord’s approval to sublet.
1. Find a suitable subtenant
It’s best to ask someone you know and trust. A dependable person you can rely on both reassures the landlord and gives you peace of mind that this person will uphold their end of the bargain—paying the rent on time, taking care of the property, and following all other lease terms.
If you don’t know anyone who wants to sublet, you can still find a suitable subtenant.
- Tell everyone you know that you’re looking.
- Post on social media and Craigslist.
- Ask if your roommates will do the same—they’re the ones who’ll be living with this person, so it benefits them to find someone.
If you do post the unit online, make sure you list the benefits (basically whatever it is that you like about it). Also include photos, and of course, your contact information.
If you’re having a hard time finding someone, lower the rent or offer to pay utilities. Even if you need to subsidize part of the subtenant’s rent, it will be cheaper than paying all the rent and probably cheaper than breaking the lease.
2. Screen potential subtenants
You can sign up with Cozy as a landlord and have your subtenants apply. (If you are already signed up with Cozy as a tenant, you’ll need to use a different email address.) Request that applicants allow a credit and background check. This lets you know whether they have a criminal record and how they handle finances.
Ask for references, and call them. Ideally, you will speak with their employer and their current landlord.
3. Get your roommates on board
If you have roommates, make sure they’re okay with your subtenant. You don’t want to cause any drama before you leave by surprising your roommates with a stranger suddenly living with them. If your roommates approve your subtenant, have them sign a form stating so.
4. Draw up a lease between you and the subtenant
A written lease makes everything clear, protects both parties, and eliminates your-word-against-theirs types of scenarios.
Here are some must-haves to put in the lease:
- The dates the subtenant will be renting the unit from you
- The amount of rent they will pay
- Whether they will pay the rent to you or directly to the landlord
- Who will pay for utilities
Also provide your subtenant with a copy of your lease so they will know all the particulars of your rental situation.
A note about rent: You can continue to pay the rent to your landlord even if you have a subtenant, and your subtenant would pay you. This way, you know that rent is being paid. You can also choose to let your subtenant pay the landlord directly. But if your subtenant doesn’t pay, the landlord could evict you (unless you pay rent pronto plus any late fees).
It’s a good idea to ask your subtenant for a security deposit. A usual amount is half or a full month’s rent.
5. Put in a written request to your landlord
Let your landlord know that you are taking this matter seriously by mailing (or at least emailing) them about your sublease proposition at least 30 days in advance.
Here’s what to put in the letter:
- Your reason for needing to sublet
- The start and end dates of the sublease period
- The proposed subtenant’s name and current address
- Your address (or a way of contacting you) during the sublease period
- A copy of the sublease agreement and any roommate approval form
6. Wait for your landlord’s response
If your landlord doesn’t respond in a week or so, follow up. If your landlord won’t respond or refuses your sublease proposal for no good reason, you may need to contact an attorney or legal aid.
7. Understand what you’re getting into
You are ultimately responsible for your rental unit.
If you choose a subtenant who is irresponsible and skips out on rent, damages the rental unit, or becomes a nuisance to the point of violating the lease terms, your landlord can come after you for the money.
Make sure you have a clause in your lease with your subtenant that states they will be responsible for unpaid rent or damages they caused. That way, if your landlord sues you or keeps your security deposit to pay what’s owed, you can then come after your subtenant or keep part or all the security deposit if you requested one.
Note that the expectation is to return your subtenant’s security deposit. If you do keep all or part of their security deposit, you need to provide a reason.
A subtenant could save you from paying rent for a place you won’t be living in or from having to break your lease. If done correctly, the arrangement could work out well for all parties involved: your subtenant, your landlord, and you.
If you have tips for subleasing, please share them in the comments!