What Does it Mean to ‘Sublet’ Your Rental Unit?

Many homeowners rent out a part of their home in an effort to make a little side cash for space that they’re not using. Whether it’s a room in the home or a completely separate floor, homeowners can choose to open up part of their home to a tenant who then pays them a monthly rental fee in exchange for a roof over their heads.

But can renters do the same? If you currently rent and are out of town every so often, why should your unit be left vacant while you’re paying for it? Can’t you bring someone in

to rent out your place temporarily while you’re not there?

Or what if you want to bring in a roommate after you’ve already signed a lease, whether to help with the rent or simply to have some company?

That would be called ‘subletting’, and it’s an arrangement that you’ll need to work out with your landlord before you allow anyone into your home and charge them rent. If you don’t, you could find yourself in some trouble.

So, what exactly is subletting, and how do you go about it the legal way?

What is Subletting?

Basically, subletting involves a current renter leasing out their property to someone else. Not only can this arrangement be beneficial for people who are just looking for short-term rental units, but it can also help renters cover the cost of their long-term lease, especially when they’re not using the place 52 weeks out of the year.

Are You Allowed to Sublet?

When you rent out a unit, you typically have to sign a lease contract with your landlord. This lease will not only stipulate the term of your lease and how much your monthly rent will be, but it will also outline a number of details and terms about how you can and can’t use the property, as well as what your responsibilities and obligations are.

One of the terms that may be found in your lease if you ever intend to rent part or all of your unit out to another party at any time is a ‘sublet’ clause.

In California, you’re allowed to sublet, but only if you have written consent from your landlord before doing so. If your landlord doesn’t agree to it, then there’s no point in looking for someone to sublet from you. If you do, and you get caught, you could find yourself in breach of your lease.

This is especially true if there is no clause that specifically states that subletting is allowed or if there is a clause that actually says “no subletting.”

Landlords usually include this clause in leases in an effort to have control over who resides in their properties. Since there is no actual legal relationship between a landlord and a person who sublets, there’s little control for the landlord, compared to someone who actually has a signed lease. 

It should be noted that the rules across the state of California may differ when it comes to subletting. For instance, the rules on subletting tend to be a little laxer in San Francisco where subletting is more common and supported.

Be sure to check your lease to see if there is anything that discusses subletting. Whatever is stipulated in your lease speaks volumes. While in some states it is illegal for landlords to specifically include a clause that prohibits subletting, California is a little different with this issue.

In the Golden State, landlords have the freedom to add such a clause if they do not want anyone other than the original tenant on the lease to live in the unit and pay a separate rent fee.

How to Handle a Sublet Arrangement

If you have explicit consent from your landlord to sublet your rental unit, you’ll need to go about it the right way. Ideally, you should draft up a contract or written statement that both of you sign which will outline the terms of the arrangement. The documentation should clearly detail the following:

  • Term of the sublet
  • Name, permanent address, and signature of the subtenant

This letter should be mailed to the landlord through certified mail, requesting a return receipt. This will provide you with proof that the letter was delivered in case the situation is ever taken to court. The copy should then be saved for your own records.

You and the subtenant should both be familiar and up-to-date on the laws surrounding subleases and understand what your responsibilities are to uphold the terms of the lease agreement. 

The Bottom Line

Subletting can be a great way to supplement your rent, especially if you’re not there a few times out of the year. But at the end of the day, you’re ultimately responsible for the full rent amount as per your original lease. Even if your subtenant doesn’t pay up, you’re still required to pay. Just make sure that you choose your subtenant wisely and get written consent from your landlord before you take this route.