When you find that perfect place to rent, then move in all your stuff, you begin to think of the place as “home sweet home.” And you should.
But your job might require you to be out of town for a few months. Or you might discover you can’t afford the rent on your own. In those cases subletting—renting out your rental to someone else—provides the perfect solution.
What could possibly go wrong?
Subletting without approval might be a lease violation and could get you (or your subletter) evicted.
Check Your Lease First
Subletting is something that you can or cannot do, depending on the terms of your lease. It’s also something you can negotiate prior to signing the lease.
Here’s what I put in my leases:
Tenant will not sublet any part of the Premises or assign this Agreement without the prior written consent of Landlord. Violating this clause is grounds for terminating the tenancy.
(Note that the term “assign this Agreement” is different from subletting. It refers to someone taking over the lease from the original tenant.)
Even if your lease says nothing about subletting or allows it, your lease probably still only gives you the exclusive right to access the property, and you would typically need to get the landlord’s approval of your choice of subletter.
Here’s some insight about why landlords care if you sublet.
Related: A Renter’s Guide to Breaking a Lease
Your landlord didn’t put you through the application and screening process on a whim. Landlords conduct background and credit checks to help ensure they’ll get a responsible tenant who will pay the rent on time and abide by the lease terms.
If you circumvent that process by subletting to the first person who answers your Craigslist ad, you’re taking a chance. Not every person will be as trustworthy as you are, nor will every person meet your landlord’s requirements.
If you don’t screen your subletters, you could get:
- Someone who moves in with three enormous, unapproved dogs.
- A significant other who was just released from prison and only pays partial rent.
- A person who disappears a month after you sign a lease elsewhere, so you’re left to cover two rents.
A bad subletter can put you in a bad position, especially if they cause damage to the property. You’re responsible for repairing or paying for those damages. This less-than-ideal tenant will not win you any “brownie points” with your landlord, who might terminate your lease and sue you for damages, all because of your subletter.
Renting or subletting to someone without conducting a proper screening is like buying a used car without first taking it to a mechanic for an inspection. You might luck out and get a great car, or you might wind up with a clunker that breaks down soon after purchase.
You might end up with a clunker if you don’t screen your subletters.
Just as a mechanic can reveal problems that might cause you to pass on a bad car, the tenant screening process allows you to make a better decision when choosing potential tenants and subletters.
Consider if You Really Want to be a Landlord
By subletting, you’re in effect, making yourself a landlord, because the subletter pays you rent, which you’ll likely pass along to the landlord.
Do you know anything about being a landlord? Here are some questions you should be able to answer:
- Did you know you should have a lease agreement and that it’s not a good idea to rent to someone with only an oral agreement?
- Do you know what language to put in a lease agreement?
- Do you know how to evict your subletter?
- Do you know what grounds are needed to evict?
- Do you know who is responsible for repairs if your subletter breaks something?
- Do you know whether the HOA rules in your neighborhood allow subleases?
Those are some of the questions that arise, and they’re all questions you need to be able to answer before becoming a landlord.
Even if you do understand the responsibilities that come with being a landlord, it’s still best to get approval from your landlord before you sublet. If you have a great relationship with your landlord, ask if it would be alright for the subletter to contact your landlord directly for all issues.
Perhaps your landlord will prefer to be the main point of contact, which will allow you to share the responsibilities of subletting.
Try to convince your landlord to share the responsibility of having a subletter.
Using the car analogy: You probably wouldn’t be happy if your friend borrowed your car and then loaned it to a stranger who racked up tickets and didn’t have a license. Your landlord feels the same way about their rental property.
Don’t Assume You Can Use Airbnb
You might be renting a place that has a bedroom you aren’t using. So, enterprising person that you are, you start renting that room through Airbnb. Don’t do this without prior consent from the landlord. The same rules that apply to subletters apply to people renting a room or the entire property using Airbnb.
Most states and counties regulate short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnb guests. If you rent out your extra room, you may be creating legal headaches for the property owner.
If you want to get into the Airbnb business using property you rent, not own, work out an arrangement with your landlord. Discuss it with your landlord, and only move ahead if your landlord agrees.
Learn more about how you and your landlord can work together to make money as Airbnb hosts here: How to Make Extra Money by Allowing Tenants to Sublet with Airbnb
Unless your lease allows you to sublet, don’t do it. If you can sublet, work with your landlord on the process (unless your lease gives you full control over the process without needing to notify your landlord, which is not the norm).
If subletting is forbidden in your lease, and you have a situation where you need to have someone sublet to prevent you from having to move out, let your landlord know. There might be an arrangement you can work out together.
It’s never right to secretly add a subtenant. Things tend to go wrong. If your sublet arrangement doesn’t go smoothly, you might have a hard time renting in the future.