After you have completed the often long process of screening and moving in a new tenant, sometimes tenants inform you that they wish to end their lease early, typically due to reasons such as a job change or moving in with a significant other. This can be disheartening when you have put in the work to get the vacancy filled, and it may be tempting to minimize the additional work you may have to do to get the unit rented again by agreeing to a tenant’s proposal to sublease or assign their tenancy to a new person of their choosing. While there can be benefits to subleases and assignments, and in some places you cannot outright ban or unreasonably refuse a sublease, there are some pitfalls to be aware of with both options, as well as an alternative that may be preferable. It has also become increasingly popular for tenants to use their units for short-term vacation rentals, a practice which additionally carries a number of downsides for landlords.
When a tenant wants to leave their lease early or temporarily, and proposes to have a substitute tenant of their choosing live in the rental in their place and pay rent to the original tenant, this is called a sublease. For example, your original tenant may be a college student who plans to study abroad for a semester, but wishes to return after that. Another example may be if the original tenant wishes to rent out part of the unit, perhaps just one bedroom, in order to help them cover their expenses. In order to give you more control of these situations should they arise, it is best to have a clause in your lease specifying whether subleases are allowed, and if so, setting forth a requirement for the tenant to obtain your written permission or meet other criteria before subleasing the rental. Be sure to check state and local law regarding subleases, as some jurisdictions do not allow you to unreasonably deny requests to sublease, even if your individual lease does not permit them. It is also wise to require a subtenant to undergo the same screening process as the original tenant with regard to credit history, income, and other factors, but as always you should not make your decisions based on discriminatory factors.
Short Subleases and Assignments
Landlords should thoroughly screen potential subtenants and assignees even if the time left on a lease or periodic rental agreement is short. A bad subtenant or assignee can wreak a lot of havoc in a short amount of time or even refuse to leave once the lease or rental agreement is up.
The primary advantage of allowing a sublease is that you will presumably have an uninterrupted stream of income for the rental unit, which won’t sit vacant while you find a new tenant. Especially if the sublease request has come from a good and trustworthy long term tenant, then it may be worthwhile to grant the request and trust their judgment regarding who the subtenant is, subject to meeting your screening requirements. Your original tenant will also remain responsible for any failure to pay rent during the subtenancy, as well as any damage to the property. The downsides of allowing a sublease include that because the original tenant, rather than you, will be the subtenant’s landlord, it may be difficult to enforce the terms of the lease in the event of any violations. The subtenant may also refuse to leave at the agreed-upon time, potentially making it necessary for you to evict both them and the original tenant.
An assignment is similar to a sublease in that it involves someone new taking the place of the original tenant, but the original tenant in these cases does not intend to return. The assignee assumes the legal place of the original tenant in the lease, meaning that they are renting from you rather than the original tenant. This means that the assignee is typically responsible for all of the original tenant’s general obligations under the lease, which allows you to pursue legal action against them in the event of a violation. Further, if the assignee fails to pay rent, you can actually pursue payment from the original tenant. Therefore, an assignment allows you the advantage of an uninterrupted supply of income for the unit without requiring you to do as much work to find a new tenant, and permits you to hold the original tenant responsible if the assignee does not follow through on their obligation to pay rent.
Subleases vs. Assignments
The original tenant remains liable for the rent (the subtenant is liable to the original tenant)
The original tenant remains liable for lease violations
The landlord must evict the original tenant in order to evict the subtenant
The assignee becomes liable for the rent, and the original tenant is only liable if the assignee does not pay
The assignee becomes liable for lease violations
The assignee can be evicted for any reason for which the original tenant could have been evicted
Creating a New Tenancy
While allowing a sublease or assignment may be advisable in some situations, in many cases the best and simplest option is to terminate the original tenant’s lease in writing and begin a new lease with the new tenant. This may still allow you to take advantage of the original tenant’s legwork in identifying a replacement tenant provided that the new tenant meets your requirements, but gives all the parties the added benefit of clarity when it comes to the legal relationship between you and the new tenant, especially if things go awry after they move in.
Particularly in competitive rental markets and large cities, tenants are turning to short-term rental services like Airbnb to rent out the units they themselves rent, and make a profit by collecting a fee from their guests. Many landlords disfavor this practice due to the increased wear and tear on the rental, people they haven’t screened using their property, and possible liability issues, among other things. Further, a number of cities have begun to highly regulate if not outright prohibit short-term vacation rentals of this nature. If you do not wish to allow tenants to host short-term vacation renters, once you have checked your local laws on the topic, it is best to clearly prohibit this practice in your written lease or rental agreement, and distinguish this type of rental from more standard subleases.