Apartment sublease basics
How to Sublease Your Apartment in the US
If you are currently renting an apartment, but you will need to leave it empty for a while, you may wish to find someone to move in. This is called subleasing. You will continue to be responsible to your landlord for the full term of your contract, but you can get someone to live in the space, so you’re not stuck paying rent for an apartment you’re not using. You need to be careful and do this correctly, however, or you could get yourself into trouble.
Making the Initial Arrangements for a Subtenant
Review your lease to understand your rights.The lease that you signed when you moved in to the apartment controls the relationship between yourself and your landlord. Your lease will probably say very clearly whether subleasing is or is not allowed.If the lease forbids subleasing, then you will need to get special permission from your landlord.
- If you need to get permission from your landlord, you will want to try to convince him or her that a sublease is a good idea. An apartment is generally considered safer when it is occupied, because someone is there to watch for break-ins, plumbing problems and so on.
- Do not try to sneak in a subtenant without your landlord’s permission. If you do, assuming that your lease forbids subleases, then you will be in direct violation of your contract, and your landlord will probably have grounds to evict you immediately.
- Get your landlord’s permission in writing, either in a separate letter or as an addendum that you attach to your lease.
Put out advertisements for the available apartment.Once you get over the hurdle of getting your landlord’s permission, you will need to find someone to take over your lease. If you already have a friend who wants the apartment, that’s terrific. But if not, you will need to advertise.
- Use word of mouth. Talk to your friends and family, and ask your landlord if he or she is aware of anyone looking for a temporary place to live. This is the cheapest and often most effective way to find someone acceptable.
- Place an ad in a local paper. Local advertising is often quite affordable and is a very useful way to notify people of a vacancy.
- Use social media or Internet sites. Getting the word out in as many different ways as possible will maximize the number of people who know about your apartment. Try posting on sites like Craigslist or Sublet.com, in addition to Facebook or Twitter. If you live in a college town, you might try Uloop.com.
- Post fliers around the neighborhood. Look for public bulletin boards in places like the public library or some small stores and restaurants.
Conduct a background check on all potential subtenants.Remember that you are still responsible to your landlord on the original lease. When you take on a subtenant, you are responsible to your landlord for any damages that subtenant may cause to the apartment. You also remain responsible for the rent, so you want to be sure to select someone you can trust.
- Put yourself in the position of “landlord.” Recall the interview your landlord gave you, and the background check he or she required. You should treat a prospective subtenant the same way.
- You may choose to involve your landlord in this interview stage as well. Your landlord is likely more experienced. In addition, if your landlord has a role in helping you make the selection, you are likely to get some additional cooperation from your landlord if any problems arise with the subtenant.
Interview any prospective subtenants.Before accepting someone to take over your lease, you should meet him or her in person. If the applicant is a stranger to you, you will need to ask some questions to get to know him or her. You should ask things like:
- Why are you looking for a temporary apartment?
- What kind of work do you do, and what is your income?
- Will you be the only one moving in?
- Do you have any pets?
- Do you entertain often? Will there be a lot of visitors or guests?
Walk through the apartment together.Point out the condition of the apartment, and note any areas of concern. Impress on the subtenant that you expect to find the property in the same condition when you return and that he or she will be responsible for any damage.
- It is a good idea to take photographs of the apartment before you turn it over to someone. Be comprehensive, and get photos of all the walls, floors, carpeting, cabinets. Try to anticipate anything that could be damaged and get a picture. If any problems arise, these photographs will help you prove what happened.
Remove any important personal items from the apartment.Even the best interview process cannot guarantee the honesty and integrity of your subtenant. If you have any important possessions, valuable property, or meaningful personal items, you should take them with you or put them into storage when you leave the apartment.
Negotiating the Terms of the Sublease
Agree on a rental amount.You are not bound to charge exactly the amount of your own rent. You may ask for something less, if you want to encourage a tenant to move in soon. Or you could try to charge a bit more, so that it covers your rent completely and you gain a bit as well.
Ask for a security deposit.It is common for a lease -- even a sublease -- to require a security deposit. This will protect you financially if your subtenant causes any damage to the apartment or leaves without paying rent.
Work out the payments for utilities.If your lease with your landlord has you paying for certain utilities, you remain responsible for those even with a sublease. You need to consider if you want to have your subtenant take over the payments, or if you will keep paying them. If you are passing the utilities on to your subtenant, be clear about which utilities the subtenant will be paying.
- For a short-term sublease, it may just be easier for you to select an average amount that covers your utility payments, and add that into the rent that you charge. Then you can be sure that the payments get made (because you will make them), but you will be covered for the money.
Work out any special agreements.Discuss such personal accommodations as smoking or bringing pets into the apartment. Whatever you discuss with your subtenant, you need to make sure that your landlord will agree. Do not give your subtenant any rights that go beyond the rights that you have under the original lease.
Drafting the Sublease Agreement
Use a written contract.Even for a short sublease, it is important to put your agreement into writing. In case any dispute arises later, the written contract will control.
- The Internet has numerous sources for lease agreement templates. If you search by state, you can find contract templates that incorporate local real estate law for your area.Using a standard contract will help you remember important issues that need to be included in your lease.
- You may wish to consult with an attorney or licensed real estate broker before you finalize the lease. You can still use a template form, and then just pay an attorney or real estate agent for a brief consultation fee to review your contract.
Include all the details of your agreement in the written sublease.The standard form covers most of the legal details of a lease agreement. But if you and your subtenant discussed any special provisions, such as whether or not to allow pets, you need to make sure that this is written into the lease.
- The standard details to include in your written sublease agreement include the amount of the rent, due dates for rent payments, how and where to pay the rent, penalties for late payments, payment of utilities, and terms related to a security deposit.
- If the standard lease contract does not include something that you want to include, feel free to write your own side agreement. Just write down whatever you and your subtenant wish to include and attach it to the lease as an extra page. Be sure to date and sign any of these additional pages.
Sign and date the sublease agreement.The written sublease agreement will be a legally binding contract between you and your subtenant. In some cases, you may even have your landlord sign the sublease agreement, to indicate his or her assent.
- To help ensure full understand, you and your subtenant should sit together and review each paragraph of the sublease contract before signing it.
- Keep a copy of the sublease agreement, and give a copy to your subtenant and to your landlord.
Complying with Applicable Federal and State Laws
Comply with the federal Fair Housing Act in all cases.The U.S. Congress passed a law known as the "Fair Housing Act." As a federal law, it controls activities related to selling and renting real estate across the country. In short, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against people for race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap. This law will apply to the choices you make in finding a subtenant. It also controls your landlord's decision in choosing to allow or disallow a subtenant.
- Individual states may have passed their own versions of anti-discrimination laws. States must comply, at a minimum, with the federal law, but these individual state laws may impose stricter requirements. For example, Connecticut has enacted the Discriminatory Housing Practices Act (DHPA). The DHPA in Connecticut protects people against discrimination for an even wider range of reasons than the federal Fair Housing Act does.
Understand your state's law about subleasing.Different states will have different laws about subleasing. Many "standard" lease agreements that you may find across the country will include a provision that prohibits subleases. However, you need to research your individual state's law on this topic.
- The state of New York, for example, expressly prohibits a landlord from "unreasonably" refusing a sublease. You will need to provide your landlord with certain information about your proposed subtenant, but as long as the tenant appears responsible, you should be allowed to proceed.
- On the other hand, California does not have such a law. In California, if your lease prohibits subletting without your landlord's approval, then you may not do it. You still might be able to convince your landlord that allowing you to sublet is a good idea.
Be aware of rent stabilization or "rent control" laws.Especially in some larger cities, local real estate ordinances control rent levels for apartments. These rent control laws often apply to subleases as well as to the initial lease. It is up to you to research the local real estate laws in your area and find out how these will apply to you.
- For example, in Berkeley, California, a tenant who chooses to sublet his apartment is limited and may not charge any more in rent than he or she pays on the original lease.
- In Washington, D.C., a similar local rent law also controls the amount a tenant may charge of a subtenant.
Become familiar with the local rent board in your city or town.Many large cities will have an agency known as a "rent board." These agencies generally are part of the local city government. They exist to provide information and assistance for tenants and landlords. You should either check online or call the city clerk's office to ask about a rent board for your area.
- In addition to this article, you may also want to check out Sublet an Apartment and Write a Sublease Contract.
- Be descriptive in your posting -- include intersection, access to public transportation/parking, name local restaurants, sights, hot spots, future big events like concerts, popular conferences or major sporting events.
- The sublease agreement can adapted to your particular situation. Include any restrictions (e.g. no smoking, no pets), how/when you want to get paid (e.g. cash only, money order, PayPal), what to do in the case of damages (e.g. a refundable security deposit).
- Note any flexibility in your dates of availability (e.g. can you leave earlier, return any later?)
- Investigate to see how much other apartments in your area are being rented for so you don't price yourself out, for example, by checking craigslist.com or the local newspaper.
- Include pictures in your posting! Try daylight for best effect.
Video: How to Sublet an Apartment
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