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Subletting: what it is and how to do it

Subletting is a legal arrangement, so doing it right is a big deal.

Whether you’re going on an extended vacation or accepting a three-month internship out of town, subletting your apartment can be a great way to avoid paying rent for a place while you’re not there. Here’s what subletting is and how to do it the smart way.

What is subletting?

Subletting is renting your apartment or room inside your rental to someone not on your lease for a set period of time. The person you sublet to is called a subletter or a subtenant, and they generally sign a lease or rental agreement with you, rather than your landlord.

How to sublet your apartment:

  1. 1. Find out if subletting is allowed.

    In most states, landlord tenant law requires you to get the landlord’s permission to sublet. A few places allow renters the right to sublet without landlord permission, and in others, the landlord can deny a subletter after screening them, so check with your local housing authority find out the rules where you live. Also check your lease, which may lay out specific rules about subletting.

    It’s smart to put your subletting request to your landlord in writing and ask them to reply in writing as well. If your landlord claims you’ve been illegally subletting, you could be evicted.

  2. 2. Decide what to charge.

    Unless you live in a high-demand rental market, most subletters don’t pay the full rent for the apartment. It’s typical to charge 70% to 80% of your normal rent when subletting. You can always ask for the full rent, but don’t be surprised if potential subletters negotiate the rent down a bit. Don’t forget to add in enough to cover utilities if you pay those separately from the rent.

  3. 3. Set the sublet terms.

    Your landlord may have their own sublease templates ready for you to fill in and use with a subletter. In most cases, the subletter will sign that agreement with you instead of the landlord. That means the liability for keeping the place in order (and paid for) is still ultimately on you, so make sure the following things are included:

    • Start and end dates of sublet
    • Name of subtenant
    • Current home and employment address of proposed subtenant
    • Reason for subletting
    • The address where you’ll be during the sublet
    • Written consent of any roommates or co-signers you may have
    • Amount of rent to be paid, when it will be paid, and to whom
    • Amount of security deposit, when it will be paid, when it will be returned, and under what circumstances funds will be deducted to pay for damage
    • Any parts of your lease agreement that the subletter will be responsible for executing (mowing the lawn, for example)
    • A copy of your lease

    Also, make sure your landlord receives a copy of the sublease.

  4. 4. Find the right subletter.

    A friend or someone you already trust is an ideal subletter. Ask friends and family if they know someone looking for a place—even ask your landlord. In most cases though, you’ll find the largest pool of potential subletters by posting your place. You can list your space online or in community spaces, like your neighborhood coffee shop’s bulletin board.

    If you’ve got roommates, be sure to get them in on the search process since they’ll be living with the new person. In your listing, be specific as possible about the terms of your sublease and the rules of your apartment, such as if pets are allowed and how shared spaces are managed.

  5. 5. Screen your subletter.

    If your subletter is your sibling and your landlord doesn’t feel the need to screen them, you may not have any homework to do. If the subletter is a total stranger—or anyone you don’t totally trust—you’ll want to look into their background to feel secure about their ability and likelihood of paying the rent. If your landlord is involved, they may have their own rental application and background check process.

    But if it’s up to you, here’s what you’ll want to do:

    • Ask for their social security number and run a credit check. You can request a credit check from each of the three credit bureaus—Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian. Some charge fees, but it’s common to ask the potential subletter to cover the charges.
    • Ask for at least three references. Call each person on their list and ask a few basic questions. Are they reliable? Do they meet deadlines? Retain employment? Take care of their living spaces? Have pets?
    • Confirm their employment. Ask to see a few months of paystubs to make sure their income can cover the rent, and call their employer to be sure they still work there.
    • Do an interview. This doesn’t have to be formal. You can meet over coffee and invite your roommates along, just to get a feel for if they’ll be a good fit or if you notice anything that concerns you (like if they smell like cigarettes but say they don’t smoke). Ask about their past living situations and why they’re looking to sublet now.
  6. 6. Get a security deposit.

    Ask your subtenant for a security deposit in case anything happens to your place while you’re away. Snap pictures of the apartment so you’ll know what it should look like when you return.

    When your subletter gives you the security deposit, be sure to put it into a safe account where you won’t accidentally spend it. If there is damage to your apartment when you return, document the damage with photos, and then get it fixed right away. Return the remaining security deposit along with documentation to prove what you spent to fix the issue.

  7. 7. Check your rental insurance policy.

    Will your rental insurance cover the belongings still in your apartment while you’re living somewhere else? It might, but be sure to examine your policy closely to be sure. If not, you may want to change your policy or remove everything that belongs to you, just in case.

  8. 8. Keep making your rent payments.

    While you’re away, continue paying your rent as usual and have the subtenant pay you. Even if your subletter is paying 100% of your rent, you’ll still be responsible for any late fees, so paying the rent yourself and on time is the best way to ensure timely payments.

  9. 9. Make a backup plan in case a subletter breaks your sublease.

    Odds are, your subletting experience will work out just fine. But because you are ultimately the responsible party, it’s smart to have a plan for what to do if anything goes awry.

    Save up as much money as possible so you’ll be able to pay a month or so of rent if your subletter is late or fails to pay. And designate someone as your check-in person in case your subletter stops communicating with you. A friend, neighbor, or even the landlord can stop by to make sure they’re still there—just be sure to send a message to the subletter in advance to let them know you’re sending someone over.

    Subletting is one kind of special arrangement you can make with a lease—and rent to own is another. Find out how rent to own homes work in our next guide.