What is Subletting and How Does it Work?

Apartment Subletting

If you are old enough to have considered renting an apartment or house, odds are, you’ve heard the term “sublet” or “sublease”. But what is subletting/subleasing? And what does it have to do with you getting that dream apartment?

Like many real estate terms, “subletting” sounds more obscure than it really is, so don’t worry. Just keep reading, and you’ll understand everything you need to know in no time!

What is Subletting? What’s a Sublease?

In short, subletting means renting out a room or apartment to someone that you are already renting. So, for example, let’s say you live in an apartment, and your name is on the lease. The apartment is a 2/2, and you live there with a friend. After 12-months, your friend moves, but you want to keep the apartment. Here you have a few options, one of which may be keeping yourself as the sole name on the lease while renting out the other room. The person you would rent the room out to is called the “sublessee” or “subtenant” while you, the original tenant, are referred to as the “sublessor.” While the new subtenant will likely make rent payments to you, you’re on the original lease and are ultimately responsible for paying the landlord and taking care of the property.

While the terms “sublease” and “sublet” are often used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences. Sublet is typically used when referring to residential apartments while sublease traditionally refers to commercial property.

Relet, another similar term, refers to signing a new lease with a new tenant and joining the original tenant in being responsible for paying the landlord and taking care of the property.

Since this article will focus on residential property, we’ll primarily use the word “sublet”.

Are You Allowed to Sublet?

Subletting is not always allowed and, if it is something you are considering, you should first check with your landlord or property manager. It may also be against local laws. If you are allowed, it has a number of potential benefits both for you and, potentially, for your new roommate.

Why Sublet Your Apartment?

For you (the sublessor), subletting your apartment gives you more control and can even save you money if you are able to charge your new roommate more than what you are paying. Perhaps your apartment is in high-demand, or maybe it comes with an entire living room of furniture and electronics and lots of other things the new roommate no longer has to worry about spending money on. In cases such as these, it is reasonable to consider charging your new roommate a premium and saving yourself some money on the monthly rent. Beyond control, there are times as a tenant where you simply need to pick up and leave.

For example, let’s say you have family troubles back home, or a new job offer and have to leave where you currently live and move to a new city. There is just one thing stopping you: You are only 3-months into a 12-month lease. What are you going to do? Leave and take a 9-month bath on paying rent even though you are no longer living in the apartment? Worse, are you going to break your lease, refuse to pay, and permanently damage your credit? Thankfully, there is another option: You can talk to your landlord about subletting. In many cases, although landlords may not be inclined to let you out of your lease, if they are reasonable, they will at least allow you to sublet. You may not be able to recoup all of your monthly rent by subletting. But, having someone new cover at least some of the costs will certainly help.
Sublease keys

How to Sublet an Apartment

While it isn’t rocket science, subletting an apartment does involve some steps you need to take if you want everything to be legal and without issue. Here’s what you need to do.

Check with Your Landlord

The first thing to do, even before talking to your landlord, is to look at your lease agreement. See if it contains any information about subletting. Usually, if it doesn’t, you are allowed to sublet. Even so, if your lease does not mention subletting, you should still go ahead and check with your landlord. If they raise objections, at least you have a leg to stand on because you already know whether or not the rental agreement says anything about subletting. Unless it is explicitly stated as not-allowed in the lease agreement, though, most landlords understand that there are many legitimate reasons why you might want to sublet your apartment. As long as you can assure them, they will continue to receive their rent payment on time, and that the new tenant is someone you vetted personally, you hopefully can get the landlord’s permission.

Check with Renter’s Insurance

People get renter’s insurance usually when they are renting or planning on renting for a year or longer. Why? Because renter’s insurance protects them from theft and injury that may occur in their apartment. If you have renter’s insurance and are considering subletting your apartment, you need to look into if your insurance will cover the new subtenant.

Some of the renter’s insurance policies will carry over, and others will not. If your renter’s insurance does not cover the new subtenant and you no longer live in the apartment yourself, you may want to consider moving all your possessions out. Why? Because the apartment is no longer covered by insurance, you are now responsible for any damages that occur while the new subtenant lives there. This means any broken or damaged property will be coming straight out of your security deposit and or pocket. Ideally, you find a new renter’s insurance policy that covers not only you but also subtenants.

Market Your Sublet

After getting landlord approval and checking with your renter’s insurance, the next step is finding a subtenant. In order to do this, you will need to do some marketing. There are several sites where you can post a sublet apartment. These days most people find their future homes on the internet, so you should be able to handle finding a subtenant yourself. But, if you are having problems or do not have the time, you can always hire an experienced realtor.If you decide to market your sublet yourself, here are some of the most popular sites where you can post the offering:

  • Realtor.com
  • Sublet.com
  • Flip.Lease
  • Craigslist
  • Social media

Other than going online, you may also want to talk to your friends and family about subletting your apartment. They may know someone or know someone who knows someone. When possible, it is always better to have some sort of connection with someone rather than meeting a new person, completely “cold.”

Interview Potential Tenants

If you live in a city and offer your apartment at a good price, odds are you will have no shortage of application. The next step is narrowing things down to the best possible candidates. If you are subletting the space that used to be occupied by an old roommate and is still remaining in the apartment yourself, it is critical that you get to know your new potential subtenant. If you have any rules of the apartment or likes and dislikes, those should be discussed openly and honestly with the two of you.

Regardless of how you think of it, living with someone in a relationship, and any relationship requires communication and compromise. Maybe your new roommate likes to use a hairdryer a bit earlier in the morning than you like. But, overall, they are quite easy person to live with. This is an example of a time when you should choose a compromise. On the other hand, maybe right before moving in with you, your new roommate decides to start a Punk Band. Not only that, but they also plan on practicing at the apartment every night! This is an example where clear communication and setting reasonable boundaries are a better idea.

The key is not to finding someone who is perfect but in someone who respects you, your possessions, and the apartment. Those are the most important things when it comes to living with someone.

In addition, you may consider asking potential subtenants if they would submit to a background check to make sure you know who you’ll be dealing with.

Sign a Sublet Agreement

With any new subtenant, you want to get a sublet agreement or sublease agreement down on paper and have them sign it. While the idea is that you never have to take any legal actions against one another, having a signed contract on file makes things more official and should show your new subtenant that they are expected to live up to their responsibilities of maintaining a reasonable apartment and paying their rent on-time.There are boilerplate sublet agreements that you can find online, or you can ask your landlord for help.

Is Subletting an Apartment a Good Idea?

Now that you know what subletting is, you may be wondering whether or not it is a good idea. The short answer is, it depends. Here are some of the things you should consider when thinking about subletting your apartment.

Pros of Subletting an Apartment

  • Freedom. Whether you are thinking about going backpacking through Europe or have another job opportunity in a different city, being allowed to sublet your entire apartment lets you avoid worrying about your apartment lease term or your move-out date.
  • Money. By subletting your apartment, you can save yourself bundles if you have to move. Otherwise, you might end up stuck paying rent when you’re living in a new apartment. This can be a significant financial burden, especially in expensive cities like San Francisco or New York City.
  • You won’t break your lease. Breaking your lease is not a viable option. Doing so can follow for years. That is an especially important thing to remember as a young person who will likely need good credit and a reputable history many times in the future.

Cons of Subletting an Apartment

  • Your reputation is on the line. When you sublet your apartment, you are putting your reputation on the line both with your landlord and potentially your old roommate. No one wants to live with a difficult new person or, worse, face eviction due to an irresponsible companion.
  • You can lose money. A subtenant can break your agreement and leave you out in the cold. There are legal actions you can take, but they are sometimes more trouble than they are worth—and are certainly better off avoided if and whenever possible. This is why it is so important to take the time to choose honest, trustworthy subtenants from the start.


Know that you know what subletting is and how you stand to benefit, you can decide how to move forward with renting out your apartment or becoming a subtenant yourself. Just remember to do your research, make sure that subletting is allowed at your apartment, get to know your new subtenant, and sign an explicit contract, and everything should go perfectly!

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