Tips for Reducing Risks when Subleasing an Apartment

As the first semester winds down at many universities around the country, there will be a massive amount of student renters trying to sublet their apartments and many other potential renters trying to find a sublet.

I noted in the How to find Someone to Sublet your Apartment article, that subletting an apartment is a risky proposition.  As the original resident, you’re trusting someone you’ve likely never met to keep your apartment in good condition and pay the rent.  For the person subletting, it’s generally less risky, but there are still some potential issues.  In this article, we’ll give you tips on reducing these risks. We can’t guarantee nothing bad will happen, but you’ll definitely reduce your risks if you follow these tips

Note: Some of these tips are for the original resident trying to sublet their apartment and others are for someone who is looking to sublet an apartment.  A tip for the original resident will have an “Original resident” note and someone looking to find sublet will have a “Sublet” note.

Find the right person
Original resident: If it were only that simple. Read the previous article and put in some real effort; you’re likely to find a good prospective sublet if you do.  You don’t want to be in a position where you’re giving your apartment to the first warm body that comes along.

Don’t go off the record
Original resident: A landlord wants to know who is living in their rentals, so most leases require the sublet be added to the lease. If a landlord finds out you have an unauthorized person living in your apartment, you could face big time penalties and even eviction.
Sublet:  If the original resident tells you that you do not need to sign anything to move in, do not believe them.  You may be tempted to keep yourself off the lease for a number of reasons, but being on the lease is the right thing to do and also provides you various protections and rights.

Full application report should be run
Original Resident: Remember that you are trusting a person you’ve likely never met before to take care of your apartment and your payment obligations.  They may seem very nice over the phone, but you want an application run. I would go as far as saying you should offer to pay the landlord extra for them to complete this.  You’d like a credit report, landlord reference, criminal background check and court cases check.  Though not always the case, the past is often a good indicator of how someone will act in the future

If original resident agreed to pay a portion rent, try collecting full amount up front
Sublet: Many times the original resident will advertise a lower rental rate then they are paying and agree to make up the difference. You might request the original resident pay the full amount up front.  If not, it’s possible they will stop making those agreed upon payments in the future.  As a sublet, you should know what the full rent amount is and have enough money in reserve to pay that in case the original resident stops making their payments.

Make a deposit agreement
Original resident:  Different landlords have different processes for handling security deposits when there is a sublet added to the lease.  It’s a good idea for you to check with your landlord about this.  Click here for other questions you should ask your landlord about subletting.  For the company I work with, the deposit stays with the original resident; we do not collect a new one from the sublet.  At the end of the lease, if there is money left over from the security deposit, it is returned to the original resident.  As the original resident, you might try to collect some deposit money from the person subletting your apartment. This is generally an agreement separate from the landlord; so you and the sublet will need to work this out.  You shouldn’t expect your landlord to charge the original resident for some move-out expense and some to the sublet.  In all reality, you, as the original resident, should be prepared to pay for any expenses that have been charged against the security deposit.

Take pictures / video of condition before moving out
Original resident:  It’s quite rare for a person subletting an apartment to completely destroy it, but it has happened before.  For a little piece of mind, you might take pictures of the apartment right before handing it over to the sublet.  If it ever got to a very bad point and you had to get courts involved, having date stamped photos could be helpful.

Come back at end of term to clean
Original resident: This is quite common with my residents.  They will sublease their apartment for the summer, then come back at the end to clean and take care of any minor repairs.  The sublease is not going to get back a security deposit whether they clean or not so they have little incentive to clean.  If maximizing your security deposit return is a priority to you, this could be worth doing.  In addition, if the sublet leaves the place in a bad condition, this could be noted in your file.  When a future landlord calls this landlord for a reference, they may note that you left the place in bad condition.

Keep sublease ads active
Original resident:  Even if you have found someone to sublet your apartment and they are living there, it’s not a bad idea to keep your sublet ads active.  When a prospective sublet contacts you, you can easily reply by saying it is no longer available. If for some reason your sublet picks up and leaves in the middle of the term, it would be nice to have a few people on deck to take over.

Keep funds in reserve in case  sublet stops paying
Original resident:  If the sublet bails, you are ultimately responsible for rent payments for the remainder of the lease term.  Keep this in mind before splurging on that MacBook Pro.

Meet your sublet, make a connection and be nice

Original resident & sublet: It’s harder to screw someone over if you’ve met them and they have a good relationship with you. Always be pleasant and nice; it’s likely to pay off in the long run.

Whew, that was a long one.  If anyone else has any tips or comments related to reducing subleasing risks, please share them below. Thanks for reading.

Eric Dainton

About Eric Dainton

Follow me on Twitter>> @ericdainton