Subletting is a savvy way of getting out of your rental agreement without having to break the contract. Also known as subleasing, the idea is when an original tenant moves out of the rental property, but finds a subtenant to step in and take over the rent payments.

With the original lease still in the original renter’s name, their rental history goes unscathed, making it a win-win for both sublessor and sublessee. That said, this real estate move isn’t without its challenges. Here’s how to master subletting and make it work for you.

1. Check with Your Landlord

Before you start drafting a “rent my apartment” ad on Craigslist or social media, you must run the idea by your landlord first. Keep in mind that not every US state requires a landlord’s permission to sublease. Though, it’s never a bad idea to keep your landlord in the loop.

Also, many rental agreements or state laws dictate whether you even have the option to sublease or not. Some states strictly forbid subletting without a landlord’s permission, while others don’t require any permission at all.

For example, if you’re in Arkansas, you can wind up in prison for up to six months for subletting without your landlord’s approval. In Chicago or New York, however, you can rent out your apartment even if the idea doesn’t jive with your landlord. In a handful of other states (Kentucky, Louisiana, Iowa, etc.), you can sublease without your landlord’s approval—but only if your lease agreement gives you the right.

Location plays a significant part in how easily you can master the subletting venture. So, make sure you check your local laws, review your lease agreement, and talk with your landlord before settling on subletting.

2. Establish Firm Boundaries

Subletting your apartment might seem like an effortless endeavor, such as letting a friend crash on your couch for the night. But it’s not that simple. The entire process could impact your finances and wellbeing as well as have legal ramifications if executed haphazardly. As a result, it’s best if you approached subletting with your protection in mind. Set firm boundaries from the get-go, and here’s how.

Know Your Risks

For starters, consider the risks you face in letting another individual live in your home for an extended period of time. More than drool on your couch cushions from a stay-over friend, your budget could take a severe hit if they decide not to pay rent. Perhaps they trash the property. Or maybe they refuse to move out, forcing you to either receive an eviction notice from your landlord or issue one to your sublessee. If you’re not ready to issue an eviction notice—or have one delivered to you—then perhaps think twice about subleasing.

Do Your Due Diligence

After considering your risks and choosing to move forward with your game plan, it would be best to do a hefty amount of homework. When you’re trying to find a good match, complete a background check, and request income information for any potential subletter. You can even go as far as requiring a good faith deposit, such as 10% of the monthly rent or one month’s rent total. This approach is slightly different than a traditional security deposit—but that’s a solid idea, too.

Create a Written Contract

Agreeing to terms face-to-face and sealing the deal with a handshake isn’t’ going to cut it when you’re mastering subletting. It’s essential to get things in writing to safeguard you, your sublessee, as well as your neighbors and landlord. Make sure you give a copy to all parties involved and keep the paperwork in a safe place. Some items to include on the sublease agreement are:

  • Contact information
  • Start and end date
  • Monthly rent (amount, due date, acceptable forms of payment, etc.)
  • Who is responsible for utilities
  • What happens if the sublessee breaks the contract
  • Requesting repairs procedure

Drafting a written agreement might seem like too much to bite off. If you feel overwhelmed, get legal advice by hiring a lawyer to draft the document. Or, check out your rental application to get an idea of what the agreement needs to entail. Also, if friends or co-workers have traveled this road before, ask to use their document as a sample sublease agreement.

3. Keep Personal Items Safe

With most of your attention focused on crafting a new lease for a new tenant, it’s natural to forget about the sentimental part of living somewhere. Think about the items in your apartment that you deeply treasure.

Perhaps you store heirlooms in your bedroom. Or maybe you have sensitive paperwork locked away in a fire-proof safe stashed in the back of your linen closet. No matter what personal items or keepsakes you have in your home, it’s best to do what you can to keep them safe.

People sublease for many reasons, but typically, you’re not going to move every single item from your apartment to your temporary home. Whether it’s an RV in the desert or your mom’s basement while you work on getting your green card, personal items don’t always stay in the same place as you. However, leaving them with a sublessee isn’t a wise move, either.

Another subletter savvy option is to keep them safe in self-storage while you’re away from your apartment. This approach will ensure their safety, offer you peace of mind, and go easy on your wallet.

4. Get Your Timing Right

Once you’ve nailed down all your legal jargon, protected your personal items, you’re ready to start planning for your move in detail. When it comes to mastering subletting, timing plays a significant role in how flawless the venture goes.

Consider your departure and return dates carefully. For example, if you’re planning on returning from your adventures on April 15th, but the sublease agreement is active until April 30th, then you’ll need to make other living arrangements for the last half of the month. Although it’s technically still your apartment, you can’t only move back in just because you’re ready.

Give yourself plenty of time to refresh the place, move your stuff, and settle back in. To plan appropriately, expect delays on the sublessee’s part, as well. And consider how you’ll pay the rent if there’s some empty time between the sublessee’s going and your coming.

Remember that life happens, and not always in the way that we want. Empathy and understanding go a long way in times of transition. Plan appropriately and navigate the situation with maturity.

5. Touch Base with Sublessee Monthly

To stay updated on the condition of your apartment, do a monthly check-in with your sublessee. This approach will accomplish a few things.

Firstly, you’ll be informed on what’s going on with your apartment. Have there been any repairs needed? Did the electric bill go up? Did the neighbors ever fix their squeaky floorboard? A responsible sublessee can keep you current on any new happenings in your apartment.

Secondly, checking in with a sublessee communicates that you expect them to be accountable to you, even while you’re away. It’s more than signing a paper and only speaking again when the lease is up. Instead, subletting should be far more involved than a typical renter/landlord relationship. It’s a unique situation, after all.

Mastering subletting isn’t impossible, no matter where you live. But it does require some strategy and forethought. Following these tips will get you started on the right foot.

Dyanne Harvey