To Avoid Sublet Headaches, Cover All Your Legal Bases

By J.W. Elphinstone
Associated Press
Saturday, October 18, 2008

So you landed a spot on the next dating reality show, but you still have to pay rent during the two months of taping. Why not sublet?

Although subletting can be a great way for a renter to recoup money during a long vacation, the arrangement can be risky and complicated, with rules varying by state and landlord.

First, check your lease to see whether it allows subleasing. Don't try to fly under the radar or you may violate your lease and find yourself homeless or in court.

If the landlord allows a sublet, get approval in writing. The landlord often will want to qualify the subletter using the same requirements as a renter. This could mean a criminal background check or employment verification. A landlord may also ask a subletter to sign a sublease.

"Without a lease, the subletter wouldn't have any legal obligations to the owner and vice versa," says Michael Semko, counsel at the National Apartment Association.

If your landlord doesn't require any checks, do it yourself. For example, run a credit check and ask for reference letters from prior landlords and employers. To run a credit check, you must have written approval from the potential subletter.

"The most important thing is be careful who you get involved with," said Eric Kahan, a partner at law firm Sperber Denenberg & Kahan, who specializes in tenant and landlord rights.

"You remain responsible for the lease terms. You don't want to get involved with a subtenant who proves untrustworthy," he said.

Requiring credit checks and reference letters is likely to shrink your pool of potential subletters. Some would-be subletters won't jump through so many hoops for temporary housing. But for the renter, it's worth waiting for so you have peace of mind.

And if you're thinking of pocketing some candy money while subletting, think again. Although there's not a hard and fast rule for every state, generally most renters can't profit off a sublet by charging more than the rent, Kahan said.

When you get potential subletters through the door, don't market your apartment by masking drawbacks. Instead, be upfront about any problems. Offer suggestions to mitigate those issues. Only you know how to manipulate the quirks of the place.

For example, point out that if someone runs the water in the kitchen sink while you're showering, the hot water blinks in and out. If a subletter knows what she's getting into, she's less likely to bail on the arrangement because the plumbing's a little off.

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