Will I get in trouble for subletting?

So, you’ve got an opportunity to go abroad for a few months and you’re not sure paying two rents is going to work. Or you’ve found the apartment of your dreams, but you still have six months left on your current lease. In either of these situations, subletting could be a great option, but it’s not always as straightforward as it seems.

Landlords may not provide permission to sublet because they aren’t always okay with unapproved renters living in their properties, and you could be held liable for things that happen while you’re gone. So if you’re wondering, “can I sublet my apartment?”, take the time to read the fine print and understand the potential risks of involved in letting someone live in your space while remaining on the lease.

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What exactly is subletting?

Subletting is when you, the renter, rent out your rental to someone else. The prefix “sub” means “under,” so you’re essentially creating another lease that falls under your current one. In short, if someone who is listed on the lease (either you or a roommate) is being replaced with someone who wasn’t on that original agreement, that’s subletting.

If you’re replacing someone who isn’t listed on the lease, on the other hand, that’s not subletting. So if you’re the only person on your lease, and your landlord didn’t need to approve your roommates in the first place, replacing them wouldn’t be considered subletting. That being said, it’s still a good idea to let your landlord know of any people-related changes, even if they don’t change your lease.

What’s the difference between a subletter, a sublessor, and a sublessee?

If you temporarily rent your apartment to someone else, you’re considered a “sublessor.” The person who moves in is a “sublessee”. Technically, the term “subletter” can refer to either of these people, but that can quickly get confusing—so we’re going to stick with the more-pretentious-but-also-more-descriptive “sublessor” and “sublessee” here.

Is subletting illegal?

When wondering, “can I sublet my apartment?”, it’s important to check the details of your lease. Rental lease agreements often include a reference to subletting—and in most cases, they specifically say that you can’t. Standard language along the lines of “resident agrees not to sublet the premises or any part thereof.” And if that’s in your lease, it’s pretty clear: subletting would violate your agreement with your landlord, and would put you at risk of consequences like eviction.

The next question that can arise is, “Can I sublet my apartment without telling my landlord?” While many people go ahead and sublet without a landlord’s permission, we don’t recommend it. Still, it could be worth talking to your landlord to see if there’s another arrangement that works for both of you and earns you permission to sublet. If you decide to go that route, make sure to get any adjustments or agreements in writing.

What if your lease doesn’t say anything about permissions to sublet?

If your lease doesn’t specifically say anything about subletting, you might be in luck—but you should check with your landlord just to be safe so you can avoid accidentally subletting an apartment without permission. While the priority for many landlords is just getting paid on time, keeping the property and the people in it safe and happy is also paramount, and knowing their residents can help them reach that goal.

Plus, since most your landlords spend time and effort getting credit and background checks on residents, it makes sense that they’d want to be aware of who’s living in their property at any given time., letting them know in advance that you’re considering subletting will help ensure that you don’t run into any issues on your sublessee’s move-in day.

Other common questions about subletting

Who’s responsible for damages when you sublet?

When you sublet, getting in trouble with your landlord isn’t the only potential risk. That’s because you’re still on the hook for the larger lease. So if that lease says “no pets,” and your sublessee moves in with a dog, you can be held responsible for any consequences just as if you had brought the dog yourself even if you’re given permission to sublet.

To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to take photos of the place before the sublessee arrives. This way, you have clear documentation of what the space looked like when you left—and there won’t be any disputes when you return over who put that hole in the wall.

Does my renters insurance apply when I sublet?

Most renters insurance policies won’t provide coverage if you sublet your apartment, and they definitely won’t provide any coverage to sublessees. Still,you have a few options that can potentially mitigate the risk you’re taking on by letting someone else live in your space.

In general, renters insurance is designed to cover property (your things) and liability (damage you cause). In terms of property, the answer to whether renters insurance covers you while you sublet is that it most likely doesn’t. If you rent out a furnished apartment (or leave some of your things in it while you’re gone), your personal belongings are not protected.

The liability part is a bit more complicated. It’s also the bigger risk in subletting, since you could be on the hook for any damage your sublessee causes. So if you’re a sublessor, it’s a good idea to require your sublessee to get and maintain a renters insurance policy for the duration of the sublease.

That way, if something happens while you’re gone, their policy might cover the damage. Still, it’s important to understand what, exactly, their plan covers. If a sublessee causes damage that isn’t covered, or if the damage the cause exceeds their plan’s liability coverage, the sublessor can be held responsible.

How can I thoroughly screen my subletter?

Even if you have permission to sublet, you could be held liable for any damage your sublessee causes. So, you’ll want to make sure you can trust them before move-in day. That’s why many people choose to sublet to people they already know, like friends or family.

If that’s not an option, it’s worth your time to do your research and vet potential subletters you don’t know. A thorough Google search and a Facebook friendship are a good start, but if you can swing a credit check, background check, and some reference checks, that’s even better.
It’s also a good idea to require some payment up front. Depending on the length of the sublet, that might mean both the first month’s and last month’s rent, and possibly even a security deposit.

What can I do to make this easier on my landlord, my subletter, and myself?

As mentioned earlier, you should always avoid subletting without permission. And even if your lease permits it or your landlord grants permission, there are a few steps you can take to make the experience smoother for everyone involved

Communication with all parties involved is key. Make sure your landlord and sublessee know how long you’re subletting and how to reach you after you move out. You’ll also need to figure out how your landlord will be paid during this time, because both sublessors and sublessees can experience major non-payment consequences if one side doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.