Often, a tenant needs to get out of a lease early, maybe because of a job relocation or an interest in moving in with a partner. Or perhaps you just want someone else to rent (sublet) your place while you’re away for the summer. Before posting an ad on Craigslist or promising your apartment to a friend, check your lease: Most prohibit subleases or assignments without your landlord’s consent—although the laws of most states require landlords to accept a suitable replacement you propose. Also, as with all tenants, a landlord may legally reject someone based upon his or her inability to pay the rent or a bad credit history, but may not reject an applicant for discriminatory reasons, such as race or gender.
What Exactly Are Assignments and Subleases?
In an ideal situation (from the tenant’s perspective at least), your landlord will allow you to move out before your lease ends without suffering a financial loss, or will agree to someone subletting your place on a temporary basis. If you intend to leave permanently, the cleanest option is for the landlord to cancel your lease and continuing legal obligations. But many landlords, especially in markets with a surplus of rental properties, will not be so obliging—in which case, you may consider whether a lease assignment or sublease is an option.
A sublease is when you transfer some (but not all of) your rights to use and enjoy the premises; you keep some right to re-enter or retake the premises. Say, for example, you want someone else (called the “subtenant” or “sublessee”) to live in your apartment for three summer months in the middle of your 12-month lease; you want the subtenant then to leave after these three months, at which time you have the right to re-enter the premises. During those three months, you’re the subtenant’s landlord, also known as the “sublessor.”
Assuming your landlord approves, there are some major negatives of subleases (particularly if you have no intention of returning to the rental, and you simply want someone to take over the rest of your lease). For one thing, you remain legally responsible for the full rent or any damage the subtenant causes (the landlord can’t enforce any of the lease provisions against the subtenant). In a worst case scenario, the subtenant might refuse to leave when you return, forcing the landlord to evict both of you. To protect yourself (again assuming you have your landlord’s permission), prepare a clear written agreement with the subtenant specifying key terms such as rent, length of the tenancy, and security deposit. And be extra careful to screen and choose a subtenant who will be living in your rental unit.
If you want to leave permanently, but your landlord will not cancel your lease or allow a sublease, consider assigning your lease. An assignment is when you transfer all of your remaining interests in the lease to someone else, called the “assignee” (you’re the “assignor”). If you want to leave six months into a 12-months lease, the assignee takes over your lease when you move out. If the assignee damages the rental, your landlord can sue the assignee; and if the landlord fails to make repairs, the assignee can pursue legal remedies against the landlord,
But you’re not completely off the hook with an assignment: Unless you and your landlord agree otherwise, you remain responsible for rent if the assignee fails to pay it. For this reason, your landlord may be more amenable to an assignment than a sublease. If your landlord agrees to an assignment, take extra care in choosing an assignee who is financially solvent and responsible.
More Information on Subleases and Assignments
If you have any questions about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to a subleasing or assigning your lease, check landlord-tenant laws in your area, or get some help from an experienced landlord-tenant lawyer. Know your rights before you approach your landlord—and the potential consequences if the law (or your landlord) is not on your side.
Also, see Moving Out of a Rental for more advice on your rights and responsibilities when it comes to ending a tenancy or breaking a lease.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What are my options if my landlord won’t let me assign or sublease? What can happen if I do so anyway and she finds out?
- Can I charge a subtenant more rent than the landlord charges me?
- I sublet my apartment last month, and an old neighbor told me that my subtenant is growing marijuana in the apartment. Can I go in the apartment without the subtenant’s consent to see if that’s true?
- I assigned the remainder of my lease to another student after I graduated and left town. Now, the student wants to change schools and leave before the lease expires. Can the landlord make me pay the rent for the balance of the lease?