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What Is Subletting?

Subletting can be a good alternative to breaking a lease. Here's what you need to know.

[Updated: Mar 04, 2021 ] Apr 26, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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Many people sign a lease only to have their circumstances change before that agreement ends. You might, for example, sign a lease agreement that lasts 12 months but get a new job midway through that forces you to relocate to another part of the country. Or, you might get married, get divorced, or experience another life change that suddenly renders your lease highly inconvenient.

Of course, you could try breaking your lease early and hoping the consequences aren't too severe. But in some cases, they can be. In a best-case scenario, you may have to pay a few months' rent or forgo your security deposit to break a lease early. In other cases, you could face greater financial damages and a hit to your credit score for violating a contract you committed to.

Thankfully, there may be a way to avoid angering your landlord and facing severe financial repercussions, all the while getting to vacate your house or apartment early. It's called subletting, and it's an option worth pursuing if you need to break a lease ahead of schedule.

How subletting works

Also known as subleasing, subletting is the process of a tenant renting out a home to another person while the original tenant remains on the lease for its duration. If you're able to sublet your rental, you'll need to provide a sublet agreement outlining your responsibilities and rights under that arrangement, as well as the responsibilities and rights of your subtenant or subtenants. The person you sublet to will be responsible for paying you rent every month once you vacate your home and he or she moves in. It'll then be on you, the original tenant, to provide your landlord with the monthly rent due under your initial lease agreement.

Benefits of subletting

There are plenty of good reasons to sublease your home. First, if you sublet your house or apartment, you won't have to deal with the legal or financial repercussions of breaking a lease early. You also won't have to go through the motions of negotiating with your landlord.

Subletting an apartment or house is also a good way to give yourself more freedom and flexibility. Imagine you're self-employed and enjoy travel that takes you away from your home for months at a time. If you find someone to sublet your apartment or house, you won't get stuck paying rent those months when you're not using it. But you'll also get the option to retain that home so that it's available to you upon your return.

Now if you're doing well financially and can afford to leave your house or apartment vacant for short stretches of time, you may prefer to do so rather than have a virtual stranger occupy your living space. But remember, there's a benefit to having a home not remain vacant. If repair issues arise, your subtenant will be around to make you aware of them so that you can, in turn, loop in your landlord or property manager. And also, having someone sublet could help prevent robbers from invading your space.

Drawbacks of subletting

Of course, there are drawbacks involved when you sublet your home, too. For one thing, the wrong subtenant could result in a world of financial losses for you. That tenant could wreck your furniture, steal your personal belongings (since it's common practice to leave your home as-is when you sublet it), or even cause accidental damage -- say, by spilling liquid on one of your electronics.

Furthermore, even if you make your subtenant sign a sublease agreement, which you should, there's no guarantee that that person won't violate it or be late with his or her rent. And that could spell trouble for you, since you're the one responsible for upholding the terms of your original rental agreement.

Also, your subtenant may be loud or inconsiderate, posing a problem for other neighbors, especially in an apartment situation. At that point, that becomes your problem.

Finally, if your subtenant falls in love with your house or apartment, you may have a difficult time getting him or her to leave. You may even have to take that person to court for a formal eviction.

Is subletting even an option for you?

Before you get too excited about the idea of subletting your home, you should know that it may not be possible. While some leases allow you to sublet, others don't. If your lease explicitly states that you can't sublet your home, and you do so anyway, you could face serious repercussions, including financial damages and even eviction. Keep in mind that short-term rentals generally prohibit subletting, but if you have a year-long lease, it may be an option.

Who's responsible if a subletting tenant damages a rental property?

When you sublet your home, you run the risk of having your personal property, like your furniture, damaged or destroyed. But what happens if you sublet your house or apartment and your subtenant causes damage to the rental property itself? Are you responsible?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes, generally speaking. Since it's your name on the original lease, you're the one charged with treating that rental with care. And if your subtenant is negligent, you could wind up forgoing your security deposit or even getting sued by your landlord. As such, you'll really need to vet subletters carefully, and also, demand a security deposit of your own upfront.

Alternatives to subletting

Though subletting may help you get out of a lease you can't or don't want to fulfill, there may be a simpler way to achieve the same goal without having to deal with finding a subtenant: talking things through with your landlord and negotiating. Even if you have a number of months left on your lease, your landlord may agree to let you off the hook early provided you give 30 days' notice.

Why might a landlord agree to that? It could boil down to basic goodwill, or even strategy -- if your neighborhood has grown popular and you vacate your rental unit, your landlord may be able to re-rent it at a higher price. It's therefore worth discussing your options before going through the motions of subletting.

Clearly, subletting has its pros and cons. If you're inclined to sublet your home, do so carefully, and make sure you have the legal right to move forward with that arrangement.

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