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Subletting and the City

By Christopher Schonberger

Don’t have an apartment yet for the summer? Getting tired of sleeping on a different friend’s couch every week or looking at apartments that you’re not ready to commit to for a year? It’s time to think about subletting.

Summertime is a subletting free-for-all because people tend to do things like go on ridiculously long vacations or move with time left on their lease. Here’s a quick guide to getting the most bang for your anemic buck:

Why sublet?

Most importantly, subleases provide greater flexibility for short-term stays. A regular lease will usually last at least one year, but you can always find people subletting their apartments for almost any amount of time, from a week to many months. This arrangement is ideal if you are still unsure of where you want to live, or if you do not know how long you will stay in a city. Secondly, you can sometimes get incredible deals on fully furnished apartments through subleasing. If a banker suddenly finds out that he has to go to China for two months, time constraints may force him to sublet his apartment at a fraction of its market value before boarding the plane. If you are on the ball, you could be the intern who lives like an i-banker for two months!

Know where to look

Because sublets are generally listed by individual tenants rather than management companies, Craigslist is the best place to start your search (check out the “sublets & temporary” section). You can also Google local subletting sites and check Sublet.com. That said, subletting is very much a word of mouth business—don’t forget to let friends, co-workers, and family know that you are on the hunt. Put the word out through Facebook and MySpace, and stay in touch with alumni networks, as well.

Make sure everything is above board

If a random dude on Craigslist is subletting his room in a four-bedroom apartment, you had better go visit the place to meet all of his roommates and make sure they know what he is doing. Perhaps more importantly, make sure the sublessor has cleared the arrangement with his landlord. Some buildings forbid subleasing, so you don’t want to end up getting tossed out through no fault of your own. (Of course, you can always just risk it and hope for the best.)

Have a written agreement

We’ll be honest—this may not happen. Whether they are negotiated with friends or strangers, sublets are often fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants arrangements, and as a result they can be disconcertingly casual. The real “rules” of subletting (e.g., New York City) are rarely followed very strictly, so a legal document is ideal but not that likely to materialize (if you don’t have a buddy/colleague/dad who’s a lawyer at your disposal, the Internet Legal Research Group offers sublet forms for each state). At the very least, make sure you cover these issues explicitly at the beginning of negotiations to avoid problems down the line.

  1. Rent. Will you pay the rent to the sublessor, or directly to the landlord? If you are still going through the person who sublet the apartment to you, what will happen if they fail to pay the rent to the landlord on time?
  2. Security deposit. Will you be required to cover a portion of the security deposit? What happens if you accidentally punch a hole in the wall while watching a Jane Fonda aerobics workout on VHS? Note that if you pay a security deposit directly to the tenant, they may not be able to pay you back until they get their original security deposit back from the landlord at the end of the lease. Will this delayed repayment work for you?
  3. Apartment issues. If there is a problem, are you expected to deal with it (or, worse still, pay for it)? Will the sublessor be easy to contact if you can’t figure out how to fix the Internet connection, or is he going to be in the Ecuadorian rainforest the whole time? Will he give you the green light to make game-time decisions on repairs?
  4. Are you allergic to cats (or responsibility)? Sometimes presumptuous sublessors will expect you to do things like take care of their eight cats or water their plants. For some of us, it ain’t that type of party. Before moving in, read the whole listing with an eye for personal red flags like pets, smoking, or religious needs (e.g., Kosher).
  5. Think about the future. If your sublease takes you to the end of the original lease, you may be in a position to take over the lease and stay in the apartment. Play it right and this move could be a good way to “test-drive” an apartment before making a commitment.

Did you find this helpful? You can find more information on subletting and everything else under the recent grad sun by downloading The Gradspot.com Guide to Life After College for free.

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