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How Does Subleasing Work for an Apartment?

By Alene Laney · August 11, 2023 · 8 minute read

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How Does Subleasing Work for an Apartment?

How does subleasing work? Whether you’re a current tenant thinking about subleasing your apartment or a prospective renter looking at a possible subtenant situation, you might be wondering if it makes sense to sublease an apartment.

Subleasing is like renting from another renter instead of the landlord. The rights of the original lease between the owner and the original tenant are transferred to the subtenant, yet the original tenant is still responsible to fulfill contractual obligations of the lease. If the subtenant doesn’t pay, for example, the original tenant will likely still need to pay the landlord rent. (Note that subleasing is different from subletting, in which you let a new tenant take over your current lease and have a direct relationship with your landlord.)

Subleasing may be considered when a tenant needs to move out before it expires. It’s also common when a tenant needs to leave for a short time and wants to return to the apartment later.

What Is Subleasing?

Subleasing is a legal way for a tenant to rent out their property to another tenant (also called a subtenant). The original tenant remains on the lease and is expected to fulfill the obligations of that lease. They may be responsible for damages and unpaid rents caused by the subtenant, for example.

There are a number of scenarios where subleasing might make sense, such as when a tenant wants to rent out extra rooms or when the original tenant needs to leave the area for a new employment opportunity. Breaking leases can be quite costly, so if the landlord allows for a unit to be subleased, finding a subtenant can ease the financial burden on the original tenant. Likewise, if a tenant is able to rent out extra rooms, they can factor that into the money they have available to spend on rent and may be able to afford the apartment better.

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How Does a Sublease Work?

A sublease only works if it is allowed by the landlord. Basically, a sublease creates a new landlord-tenant relationship between the original tenant and the subtenant instead of between the landlord and the subtenant.

The new tenant pays the original tenant and the original tenant pays the landlord. The subtenant must fulfill contractual obligations to the original tenant (who acts as landlord) while the original tenant must abide by the lease agreement made with the landlord.

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When to Consider Subleasing

When canceling/breaking your lease is incredibly expensive, you’re probably looking at what it takes to sublease your apartment or home. Certain situations may make more sense than others when it comes to subleasing.

•   You are temporarily moving to a different location for work and would like to return to your apartment.

•   You have an opportunity to study or work abroad for a semester.

•   You bought a home and have a home mortgage loan to pay for and may need a subtenant to finish your lease for you.

•   You’re moving for a job opportunity and need a subtenant to finish your lease for you.

•   Your family has increased in size and you need a bigger apartment.

•   A personal situation, such as a sudden need to care for an elderly or disabled family member, makes it necessary to move.

Keep in mind, landlords may not allow subleasing. It’s usually specified in the original rental agreement if subleasing isn’t allowed. If your contract does not forbid it, you’re likely able to sublease your apartment.


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Pros and Cons of Subleasing

Subleasing has some pros and cons to consider.

Pros of subleasing

•   The financial burden of a lease you can’t fulfill is eased.

•   You may be able to avoid expensive fees for breaking your lease.

•   You may be able to move to a more suitable housing situation for you if you find a subtenant.

•   You may earn income if your subtenant pays more than you pay to rent the property.

Cons of subleasing

•   You may have to act as landlord.

•   You could incur costs for damages caused to the property by the subtenant.

•   You may need to pay rent if the subtenant is unable to.

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Examples of Subleasing an Apartment

Here’s an example of how subleasing an apartment works: Let’s say you take a hard look at whether you should buy or rent, based on your budget, and you decide to buy or build a house. You find your dream home unexpectedly quickly. Paying for both rent and a mortgage is costly, so you want to find a subtenant to take your spot at the apartment.

You check your lease and there’s nothing in there that disallows it. You advertise, people call you, you meet, and eventually find someone you think would be good. You get them to fill out an application and check their income, credit, and background.

Once everything looks good, have them sign a sublease agreement with you. You move out of the apartment and into your new home. They move in, they pay you, and you pay the landlord. Once your lease is up, assuming you do not renew it, the subtenant will need to work out a new lease with the landlord if they want to stay in the rental.

How to Sublease Your Apartment

So, exactly how does subleasing an apartment work? When it comes to the nitty-gritty details, the process looks something like this:

  1. Find a subtenant. Since you’re assuming the role of landlord, you’ll want to advertise and vet the subtenant fully. A landlord will often complete a background check, credit check, and verify income on a tenant — you should do the same with your subtenant.
  2. Sign a sublease. Creating a sublease that protects you is key. You’re still responsible for the lease agreement you signed with the landlord, so you’ll need to be as specific as possible about what the situation and rights of the sublease entail.
  3. Collect rent from the subtenant. Now that you have a subtenant, you’ll need to collect rent from them and pay your landlord. You’re still responsible for filling the terms of your original lease, after all.
  4. Continue paying rent to the landlord as per the original lease agreement. As the primary tenant, you’re responsible for rent to the landlord. If your subtenant doesn’t pay it, you may need to figure out a way to pay the landlord so you’re not in breach of your contract.
  5. When your lease and contract ends, the subtenancy will end. The subtenant will no longer have any rights once your lease ends. In apartment complexes, it’s common for the subtenant to apply for a new lease with the landlord and become the tenant.

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Tips to Subleasing an Apartment Your First Time

Subleasing an apartment isn’t easy, but it may be the right move to allow you to move on. If it’s your first time, you’ll want to keep these things in mind:

•   Make sure subleasing is allowed in your lease agreement. The last thing you want is to breach your contract. That gives your landlord justification for keeping your deposit and pursuing legal action against you. While this sounds extreme, it’s also not outside the realm of possibility.

•   Screen your subtenant carefully. Since you’re acting as landlord, you’ll want to ensure the subtenant is able to pay and maintain the property. Consider running a background check and credit check, and verifying income. Don’t go off your gut — every rookie makes this mistake — but instead, verify the information the prospective tenant gives you. A good subtenant will make your life 100% easier.

•   Get a professional to create a sublease contract. The contract between you and your subtenant should be strong, or you open yourself up to legal and financial trouble. A professional can help. Some items that may need to be included in the sublease are:

◦   Name of the sublessor

◦   Name of the sublessee

◦   Location of the property

◦   Beginning and end dates of the sublease

◦   Rent and deposit amounts

◦   Due date of rent

◦   Terms and conditions of the original lease

◦   The document should be signed by both parties and possibly by the landlord if it is required



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The Takeaway

Subleasing can help you cover the cost of a lease you need to get out of, but it’s not easy and it’s not without risk. Even if you do a great job finding and screening the new tenant, there’s no guarantee they will pay and keep the property in tip top shape. But it’s also possible you’ll find a great subtenant and help you get to the next stage of your life, whether it’s moving in with your partner or buying your first home.

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FAQ

What is the difference between a lease and sublease?

A lease is a legal contract that grants rental rights for a tenant directly with the landlord. A sublease is a contract between the initial tenant and a second tenant.

Is subleasing easier?

With subleasing, you take on the role of landlord with a new tenant while maintaining a contract with your landlord, so it’s not an easy path. You collect rent from the subtenant and pay the landlord. Along with this, you assume the risk of another tenant damaging the property or not paying.

How does subleasing work in California?

In California, you simply can’t sublease legally without your landlord’s written permission. First, you’ll want to check your lease agreement to make sure subleasing is permitted. Then, if it is allowed, you’ll still need to get written consent from your landlord before subleasing.


Photo credit: iStock/StockRocket

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

This article is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult an attorney for advice.

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