The risks of subleasing according to tenants
1. Incompatible personalities between roommates
Whenever a tenant shares a rented space with a subtenant, it’s crucial to consider how their personalities will mesh as roommates. This is true even in friendly situations.
Take Michael, for example, an actor and a teacher in New York City. He’d had experience as a subtenant before. When he was able to get a place of his own, he wanted to rent a room to help subsidize his cost of living.
An old friend
approached Michael, interested in subletting but looking for a flexible agreement as he navigated some personal and financial troubles. He asked for a handshake deal
, which Michael says he now regrets accepting. With just a verbal agreement, they weren't able to set proper boundaries.
Michael said he felt the subtenant took advantage of his compassion and generosity. They were often unreasonable and eventually became violent. The tension between them mounted, and Michael had to end the relationship.
“You never know who someone really is until you live with them,” said Michael. “It’s really risky.”
East from New York, in Kentucky, Michelle also had a clash of personalities with one of her subtenants. She was renting a two-bedroom house with a fenced-in backyard, a driveway, and flowers. Subleasing helped her save a few hundred dollars every month, and she’d mostly had good subtenants, so she said it was very helpful.
However, one man was a revolving door of drama. He caused trouble by smoking inside, getting arrested by police at the house, and lying about his last name.
“He was always filling up the house with stuff he picked up on the side of the road. He complained a lot about everything and made [me] uncomfortable,” she said.
Michelle knew this subtenant wouldn’t work out and, ultimately, asked him to leave.
2. The eviction process and squatter’s rights
When subleasing, it's essential to be familiar with the eviction process and prepared for complications (especially when sharing the rental space).
Back in NYC, Michael was having trouble evicting his subtenant. Without a written contract or amicable communication, he wasn’t able to get them out easily when things went sour.
For him, it was essential to get the subtenant out within thirty days. They were threatening to use “ squatter’s rights,” which are rights that sometimes allow squatters to gain ownership of a property.
“Some people in New York are desperate,” said Michael. “They find a place, and they’ll do anything to keep it.”
In the end, Michael felt he had to leave his own apartment to feel safe and to give the subtenant the space and time they needed to get their things together and move out.
After he reclaimed his apartment, Michael said it was a tragic, awful experience and that he probably wouldn’t be subleasing again anytime soon.
He cautions other people interested in subleasing to “ Set your boundaries as soon as possible. Have a discussion about your pet peeves and have integrity. If you have an agreement, follow that agreement.”
For Michelle in Kentucky, the eviction process was a similar nightmare. The troublesome subtenant didn’t leave when he was expected to, and Michelle feared she’d have to go through a court eviction process.
Michelle tried to be transparent about why the situation wasn’t working out: they’d had multiple conversations about unpaid bills and behavior problems. He just wouldn’t leave.
“When I discovered he had moved most of his belongings, I seized the opportunity to change the locks,” said Michelle. “But when I drove down the street, he saw me and began to pursue me with his car.”
There was a car chase that involved loud honking and screaming, but eventually, she lost him at a red light.
“I was scared shaking. I went to my friends for protection,” she said. “Thankfully, after I lost him, I never heard from him again.”
3. Verbal agreements and communication
You must lay things out properly at the beginning to set a good tone for the entire rental agreement.
Remember the book publisher Patrice, back in Hudson, New York? Well, it actually took her some time to find a proper subtenant.
At first, her book business partnered with another organization that seemed highly compatible. They operated a library and shared a similar philosophy, so they agreed to split the commercial space.
“We agreed that we would rent this bigger space that neither of us needed and divide it in half, you know, according to with rent,” said Patrice. They made a verbal agreement and Patrice signed the Commercial Lease with the landlord.
The agreement went well for about four years... until the library changed management, and communication went cold.
“They weren't giving me any information,” said Patrice. “They just packed up and moved away and I lost my monthly income.”
Thankfully, Patrice was able to find another subtenant in the same building who was willing to sublease with her. This time, she knew to avoid handshake deals. She said her staff was grateful once the renter signed the Sublease Agreement.
“It’s a nice, clear business arrangement,” says Patrice. “And [the contract] felt like a nice little blanket of security.”