Frequently, renters find themselves wanting to either leave a rental property early, or leave for a pre-defined period of time, such as a summer vacation or an extended trip. In these cases, rather than pay rent for a house or apartment in which they are not currently living, renters may try to make an agreement with another individual who will move into the property and pay rent on the original renter's behalf. Whether this arrangement is legal depends on a number of factors.
Local Law and the Lease
Whether a sublet is legal depends largely on local law. In some states, the renter must obtain the landlord's permission before subletting a property. In other states, subletting is legal as long as the landlord does not specifically forbid subletting in the lease. Yet other states have more complicated regulations, which govern which types of properties can be sublet or to what extent a lease can set subletting terms. A lease will typically state the rules for subletting a property, and a sublet in violation of those rules will be illegal unless the lease's provisions are in violation of local law.
Landlord Permission and Logistics
Unless the subletting provisions in a lease are illegal, a property's lease or rental agreement will govern whether the property can be legally sublet. In some cases, a sublet will be allowed only if the landlord agrees, or if the landlord specifically approves the subleasee that the tenant has chosen. Once a subleasee has been found and, if necessary, approved, the landlord may require additional documentation.
Just because a sublet is legal doesn't mean that the tenant is absolved of further responsibility: A renter will likely be responsible for a subleasee's missed payments or damage to the property. While the original renter will ultimately be responsible to the landlord, the renter can mitigate her legal risk by requiring the subleasee to sign a sublease and agree in writing to pay for rent and damages. In addition to causing problems with a landlord, an illegal sublet may also raise insurance or personal liability issues while the renter is gone.
Sublet vs. Assignment
Sometimes, if a renter has no intention of returning to the property, the parties involved may choose to enter into an assignment instead of a sublease. Unlike a sublease, which leaves the original lease intact and creates a new agreement between the renter and the subleasee, an assignment effectively removes the renter from the equation and transfers the renter's lease obligations to the new renter. For an assignment to be legal, the landlord -- as well as the other parties -- must agree in writing. If the landlord is willing to allow an assignment, this can often be the best option for a renter seeking to completely rid herself of future obligations with respect to the property.
Wally Foster is a business attorney and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since 2003. He has written for magazines including "Consumers Digest" and has contributed to several books published by Hundreds of Heads. Foster holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Williams College and a law degree from Harvard.