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To Sublet or Not to Sublet: A Tenant's Perspective

Throughout the course of my college and young professional years, I moved quite a bit — to new student housing, then back home for the summer, then to a new city for a new job. Throughout the course of these events roommates were shuffled and I encountered several different subletting scenarios, each of which was handled differently. For sake of better understanding a tenant’s reasons for subletting, I thought I would share a couple of the different scenarios that I encountered.

Scenario #1: The Summer Sublet

I first found myself subletting the summer following my graduation from graduate school. I hadn’t yet landed a job and wasn’t prepared to move back in with my parents, so I found an apartment to sublet in a condominium complex near a local University. I didn’t know the student whose room I was subletting or either of his two roommates, but the place was clean, spacious, and I’d have a balcony off of my room. I was psyched. In this scenario, I simply paid rent to the tenant whose room I was subletting. He asked for a $300 security deposit and then I mailed him a rent check every month for the duration of the summer. I wasn’t in my new place very much and was always quiet and respectful, so the situation worked out great — I even got my security deposit back. That said, I’m pretty sure the property managers had no idea that I was living in the apartment or that it had been subletted at all. Their was no sublease signed, no tenant screening process, nothing. As I now work with property managers everyday, I know how much risk this arrangement opened them up to. I’m sure they would have preferred a more formalized arrangement, but I think there is still a lesson to be learned from this scenario: Good subletors do exist, and can often help you retain tenants who might have to otherwise vacate your property. Win-win situations do exist.

Scenario #2: The Job Move

The second scenario I encountered happened a few years later after I had already established a permanent residence. I was sharing an apartment with another guy, when I suddenly landed a new job. About the same time, I found out that a couple of my friends would be moving to the same area that my new job was in and had found a great new place with plenty of room for me. I had to move and I had to move quickly, but there was no way I could afford to pay the remaining 4 months’ rent at my current apartment in addition to the rent at the new place. I went on Craigslist, found plenty of willing subletors who seemed as though they’d make good tenants, and called my landlord. My landlord decided that he was not going to let me sublet my bedroom — subletting was not specifically addressed in lease that I had signed. My options quickly became 1) Pay 4 months rent out-of-pocket in addition to rent at the new apartment, or 2) Leave my existing roommate (who was a friend) to pay the entire rent on his own. Needless to say, I was between a rock and a hard place. Ultimately, the landlord decided to allow us both to move out at the end of the following month, thus allowing us out of our lease agreement 3 months early. He was able to find new tenants very quickly, and a bad situation worked out pretty well for everybody involved.

That said, there is a lesson to be learned here as well — if you’re renting to college students or young professionals, you’re often putting them in a terrible predicament by not allowing them so sublet their unit if necessary. If my landlord had required a stringent tenant screening process for any subletor I would have totally understood and even paid for the process without any questions asked. I got out of the dilemma in one piece when the landlord decided to let us out of our lease, but if he hadn’t you can imagine the predicament I would have been in. My advice to any property manager, from a tenant’s perspective at least, is to do your best to understand the issues of your tenants. Situations arise and you should do your best to work with your tenants to find a solution that satisfies everybody involved. If you’re not willing to be flexible, you may find word-of-mouth can hurt you and finding tenants can become much more difficult.

In property management, this is just another scenario where your satisfaction is intrinsically linked to tenant satisfaction.

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