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A Tenant Who Sublets Takes a Risk--and Should Take Precautions

February 18, 2001|LETA HERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What's the point of renting if you can't be a free spirit? That's the beauty of renting. There's no mortgage--nothing to tie you down. You can take off for a three-month vacation without worrying about a thing.

Oh, except the minor matter of that little piece of paper called the lease.

"No problem," you say. "I'll just sublet."

In the past, subletting was very common. You went away for a month and had a friend rent your place--what a deal.

But times have changed. These days it's hard to find a landlord who will let you sublet your apartment.

Most landlords don't like dealing with subtenants who are not beholden to the landlord. They want the current resident of the apartment to be a tenant who has signed their lease.

Besides, landlords never like tracking tenants down in Tahiti when subtenants aren't paying the rent on time.

That doesn't mean a landlord won't allow you to sublet your apartment. In fact, many leases state that subleasing is permitted with the landlord's permission. In other words, the landlord may allow subleasing in some cases and under certain conditions.

For example, many landlords who allow sublets want to screen the applicants. They don't want someone irresponsible who might damage the apartment.

Landlords may also require that the subtenant sign an agreement with the landlord outlining the subtenant's responsibilities to pay rent and take care of the apartment.

If you want to sublease your apartment, it's a good idea to read your lease. If the lease prohibits subleasing, then you'll have to persuade your landlord to allow you to sublet.

Subletting seems like a great deal. After all, how else can you get paid to take a vacation?

But subletting is risky business.

Consider the fact that you'll have to allow another person, possibly a complete stranger, to live in your apartment. You need to be sure you can really trust the person, especially if you plan on leaving your belongings in the apartment while you're gone.

Even if you plan to put your stuff in storage (a good idea if you're picky about how your things are handled), you still need to find a trustworthy person since your name is still going to be on the lease. If your subtenant doesn't pay your rent, your landlord is going to come after you for the rent. And you're going to have to pay it if you want to protect your own credit history.

Even if you're planning to sublease to a friend, be careful. The person might be a great friend but a terrible tenant.

The best thing to do is to check out your candidate's rental history before subletting. Sometimes your landlord will do this for you, but if your landlord doesn't, make sure you take the time to do it yourself.

Call the candidate's landlord references. You may even want to get the person's credit report or ask the candidate to provide one.

When you find a good candidate, collect a security deposit and sign an agreement that protects you. Think of yourself as the landlord and the agreement as your lease.

The agreement should include the length of the sublease term, the address of the apartment, the amount of rent and when it's due, and an address where the subtenant can send the rent payment (either to you or directly to the landlord).

If the original lease came with building rules, attach the rules to your agreement and note that the subtenant must follow these rules. Outline what the subtenant should do if something in the apartment breaks. Does the subtenant call you or the building manager to get something repaired?

Note how much the security deposit is, and the subtenant's responsibility for any damages to the apartment or any of your belongings.

When leaving belongings in a sublet, make a complete inventory and attach it to the agreement. Note the condition of each item to avoid any disagreements if the subtenant damages something.

Before you leave, change your name on all your utility bills. You don't want to get stuck with astronomical phone bills.

When you sublet your apartment, you are more than just your landlord's tenant. You become your subtenant's landlord. This means you may need to become versed in landlord law, such as privacy and discrimination laws.

You may want to refer to "Every Landlord's Legal Guidebook" by Marcia Stewart, Ralph Warner and Janet Portman, available from Nolo Press at http://www.nolo.com.

*

Questions can be sent to lherman@shaysnet.com, or Leta Herman, c/o Inman News Features, 1250 45th St. Suite 360, Emeryville, CA 94608. Distributed by Inman News Features.

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