Two Musts To Keep In Mind When Subletting Your Apartment

Apartment leases can be an inconvenience if you need to relocate or just be gone for a temporary period of time. Breaking your lease may result in expensive penalties and even legal action to force you to pay rent that would've been due for the remainder of the lease. If you are in a bind and need to get out of your apartment in the middle of a lease period, a possible solution is to sublet your apartment to another renter. Subletting can prevent you from losing thousands of dollars in wasted rent and keep you from finding yourself in hot water over a broken lease. However, before you decide to sublet and become a landlord, there are potential legal pitfalls and issues to address. Below are a couple of legal subletting "musts" to keep in mind: 

Know the law that governs subletting in your region

It is important to understand the law and your rights and duties as related to subletting; a failure to know what is permitted and what is not can be a costly mistake. Housing laws are complex, and, adding to the confusion, each state and municipality has its own particular rental codes. Some areas of the country are more favorable to renters seeking to sublet, while others are much more inclined to support the landlord's perspective. For example, in Chicago, housing laws provide significant latitude to renters regarding their right to sublet, and landlords may restrict it only in certain circumstances. However, in Los Angeles, landlords are given every right to prohibit subletting and often choose to do so, and the law does not require them to make exceptions.

Even in locales where subletting is allowed, or in situations where your lease is clear that you may sublet, do not impose your will upon a landlord or exercise your rights in a brash, careless manner. Common courtesy toward landlords and working together to making your subletting experience favorable for everyone involved will yield better results than "brute" legal force.

Know your obligations under fair housing laws

Even though you are not the primary landlord, by placing your apartment for rent, you are assuming the role of secondary landlord. That means you will be obligated to follow fair housing laws and conform your behavior to the codes both at the federal and state levels. For example, Section 802 of the Fair Housing Act treats subleasing just the same as leasing; even a small-time violator can be prosecuted or sued for failure to obey. That said, there are several specific things you can do to avoid violating the rights of tenants and prospective tenants:

  • Focus your advertising efforts on the property - It may be tempting to place an ad that promotes your apartment as a "great location for a single college student", but such a sentence can run afoul of fair housing laws. By not steering potential tenants and keeping the marketing spotlight on the property's amenities, you will be in compliance.
  • Ask the right questions on your application - If you use a written application for prospective tenants, and you definitely should do so, then know what questions to leave off the application. For example, don't ask about disabilities, even if you intend to be helpful by knowing about them in advance. The use of a uniform application approved in advance by an attorney can help prevent trouble.
  • Keep the number of tenants below legal minimum limits - While it may be tempting to sublet a one bedroom apartment to three people to potentially earn more rent, it may be illegal. Federal housing legislation sets two persons per bedroom as the normal standard for an average-sized property. Avoid trying to pack your apartment with tenants and know what a reasonable limit is for your situation; even two may be too much for a small efficiency apartment, for example.