Are you a college student going abroad for a semester but you’re stuck in a year-long lease? Or perhaps you’re a professional who just landed the perfect job — but you have to relocate from your apartment in Austin to New York in the middle of your current lease. Subletting your apartment may be the way to go.
Read on to find out how to sublet an apartment, find an apartment to sublet, and rent a sublet apartment.
What is subletting?
Subletting is when someone else, a subletter, takes over your lease for your apartment. For instance, if you signed a twelve-month lease but need to move out after eight months, you may be able to sublet for the remaining four months on your lease. Subletting releases you from financial and legal responsibility for your apartment.
When you sublet to someone, they take over your entire lease for all of the time left on your lease. The new renter will sign a sublet agreement directly with your landlord.
With subletting, you are off the hook for any expenses or damages to your apartment. However, you are still financially responsible for the apartment. Even if your subtenant doesn’t pay you rent or utilities as they are supposed to, if you are subleasing, you still have to pay the landlord.
Subleasing is often confused with subletting, but the two are slightly different.
If you sublease to someone, they sign an agreement with you, the current tenant, not the landlord. The subtenant may only take over part of the lease. For example, if you have six months left on your lease and only want someone to live there for three months, you would sublease, not sublet. Or, if only one room out of a whole house is available, you would sublease, as the new subtenant would only be taking over part of the lease for the whole house.
For more on subleasing, check out this article from Redfin about how to sublease.
To find out more about subletting, continue reading below. You’ll find out how to sublet an apartment to someone else and how to rent a sublet apartment if you are looking for a short-term rental.
Is subletting legal?
If you’re considering subletting your apartment, you may wonder: Is subletting legal?
The answer to this question varies. Depending on where you live and which property management company you rent from, subletting may or may not be legal. Some landlords do not allow subletting, while others do. Meanwhile, some cities and states allow subletting while others don’t.
The best way to see if subletting is legal is to check your local laws and your current lease agreement. If your lease doesn’t say anything about subletting, you can assume that it is legal. Also, if your state laws say that subletting is legal, but your landlord doesn’t allow it, the state law technically overrides the landlord, so you can theoretically still sublet. However, you will likely have to negotiate with your landlord.
Rules about subletting
Oftentimes, your landlord may allow subletting, but they may have certain rules around it. A common rule regarding subletting is that you must inform your landlord at least a few weeks before you intend to sublet your apartment. Another request landlords often have is that they screen your subtenant. Check out your lease to see what rules your building has about subletting an apartment.
In addition to checking your lease and local laws to see if subletting is legal, make sure to read up on the rules around subletting. You don’t want to find a perfect subtenant only to find out that your landlord won’t allow subletting because you didn’t notify them in advance.
The bottom line is that you should notify your landlord as soon as possible of your intention to sublet. Communicate openly with them and ensure you are clear on their expectations so your subletting experience can go as smoothly as possible. Also, it is in your best interest to put in writing any agreements you and your landlord make.
Benefits of choosing to sublet
For the sublessor
If you are the current tenant or sublessor, there are many benefits of subletting an apartment. Most importantly, you are no longer financially or legally responsible for what happens to your apartment after the new tenant’s lease starts. That means that if the subtenant’s pet tears up the carpet, you won’t have to pay for it.
Additionally, you can move out of your old apartment without breaking your lease, which is often very expensive and sometimes not allowed. Plus, you won’t have to pay for two leases at once.
Last, subletting is excellent from a sublessor’s perspective because you can still store belongings in your apartment while you are away, which you wouldn’t be able to do if you broke your lease and moved out. For instance, if you are traveling abroad for a few months, you can lock up your winter clothes in your apartment’s closet while you are away. So there are many upsides to subletting an apartment to someone else.
For the subletter
There are also benefits for subtenants or the subletter who takes over an apartment’s lease. First and foremost, sublets offer more affordable, short-term rentals, which are sometimes furnished. Many apartment buildings do not offer short-term leases. If they do offer short-term leases, they are almost always more expensive than a 12-month lease. Plus, units rarely come furnished.
If you rent a sublet apartment, you can sign a short-term lease, and you won’t have to pay extra. Plus, unlike with subleasing, you won’t have to use the current tenant as a middle person to communicate with or pay your landlord.
How to sublet as a subtenant
Assess your situation
Before you begin looking for sublets, you will have to do some research. You may want to search for topics like the following:
- Does my city/state allow subletting?
- What rules does my city/state have about subletting?
- For how long do I need a sublet?
- When do I need a sublet to/from?
- Do I need a sublet that allows pets?
- What amenities do I need in a sublet?
- Will I be moving in with roommates?
Keep in mind that you probably don’t want to sublet if you need a lease over six months long. In that case, it will likely be easier to rent than sublet.
Once you’ve decided that a sublet is the way to go, start researching sublets available to you.
For each listing you find, keep an eye out for potential red flags like:
- You can’t tour the unit before you move in
- The current tenant or landlord isn’t responsive to calls, emails, or texts
- The current tenant or landlord can’t answer your questions, or doesn’t follow up on your questions
- The listing contains minimal information or photos
- Rental photos don’t match what you see on the tour
- The rental terms aren’t what you’re looking for
- You don’t quite meet application or rental requirements
- You can’t follow all community rules, such as noise ordinances and smoking rules
- The landlord doesn’t know about the sublet
After you’ve found some apartments that may fit the bill, schedule a walkthrough of each apartment you are interested in, either with the landlord or the current tenant. Before the tour, write down any questions you have that weren’t answered in the rental posting. That way, you don’t forget them on the tour.
Ask to view the original sublease
When a sublet looks promising, and you’ve gone on a great tour, ask to read through the lease that the original tenant signed as well as the sublet agreement the landlord would ask you to sign if you move in. Make sure to read through it slowly and in detail, no matter how long it is. This is important since you will be legally responsible for the unit after moving in.
A few questions you may ask if it isn’t clear are whether you need renter’s insurance and whether you can break the sublet agreement, and what payments you’re responsible for. Sometimes, breaking a sublet agreement is more expensive than breaking a regular lease agreement or isn’t allowed at all. And subletters are sometimes covered under the original tenant’s rental insurance, but it’s almost always a good idea to get your own insurance anyway. You can ask the landlord to see what they require and what they recommend.
When reviewing your sublet agreement, make sure that your move-out date is on or before the end date of the original lease.
Remember, once you sublet your new apartment, you will have to follow all of the rules and regulations outlined in the original lease as well as your sublet agreement.
Negotiate prices and terms
If the sublet agreement looks good, it may be time for negotiation. Some items you can negotiate are the prices and terms on the lease. For example, you may be able to pay less per month if certain spaces, like closets, are unavailable to you or if the unit will be unfurnished when you move in.
If it isn’t in the sublet agreement already, ask the landlord questions about:
- Move-in date
- Move-out date
- Monthly rent amount
- Total rent due for the term of the lease
- Security deposit amount and terms
- How rent will be paid
- How utilities will be paid
- How work orders will be handled
- How/where your landlord can be contacted
- How mail forwarding will work for yourself as well as the current tenant
- Whether or not the unit will be furnished
- Which spaces will be available to you, the subtenant
- How parking works
- How many people can move
- How many pets can move
- Pet policies
- Guest policies
- Community policies, such as smoking regulations and noise ordinances
- Late fees
- How breaches of the sublet agreement will be handled
Last, it is a good idea to do a damage walkthrough of the rental with the landlord to create a list of imperfections that already exist in the apartment. That way, you won’t be held responsible for damages that weren’t your fault when the lease ends.
If you are renting a sublet apartment with roommates, check that the lease spells out what percentage or amount of utilities each subtenant is responsible for. Also, make sure all of your roommates are clear on the rules and regulations that come with subletting in the building you are moving into.
Sign the sublease agreement
Once the sublet prices and terms are clear and workable for you, sign the sublet agreement.
Come prepared when you plan to sign the lease. In order to be approved to move in, you may need to give your landlord items such as:
- Bank statements
- Employment history
- Photo ID
- Rental history
- Social security number
- First month’s rent
- Last month’s rent
- Pet deposit
- Security deposit
Although subletting can be complicated, it offers flexibility and savings that long-term rentals can’t always offer. Plus, subletting can save you from breaking your lease and paying the steep fines that come with that. Wherever you’re looking to move, Redfin can help you find the perfect rental for you.