As each semester winds down, many UW students have to make plans for different housing. Maybe that BFF roommate has turned into the world's worst person. Maybe you're going to study abroad, or got a great internship, or you're graduating and moving on. Since most leases in town run August through August, here is everything you need to know about subletting your apartment.
What is subletting?
A sublet, or sublease agreement, adds someone new to an existing lease. Usually the new person (subletter) replaces someone who is moving out (sublessor or sublessee) but it can also happen with any new person being added to a lease. A sublease is a binding contract, and all of the same lease rules and rental laws apply to everyone involved as with a regular lease. In Wisconsin, rental agreements can be verbal, but a sublease has to be in writing. Otherwise you have some other type of leasing situation and different rules might apply. Wis. Stat. 704.09(4)
First things first: You might not need to sublet!
Subletting is risky. It comes with the same risks as taking on a roommate, except both people won't be there to deal with problems as they arise. If your subletter skips town or damages the apartment, you are jointly and severally liable with them and could get stuck with the bill. If you are the new person moving in it can feel just like a regular rental, except the person you might have the most contact with is both a tenant and (kind of) a landlord. Either way, unlike a roommate, chances are good that this isn't someone you know very well. And sometimes there are better options available!
For all those reasons, you want to make sure you actually need to go this route before signing a sublet agreement. At Tenant Resource Center we only suggest this as a last option, although many students end up having to chose it for the reasons here.
You only need to sublet if...
- You are on a lease with roommates who are staying behind. (This is by far the most common reason for subletting.)
- You want to come back to the same apartment later on (like for the summer after a spring semester away).
- You want to guarantee that a specific person gets your apartment (like a friend who will let you crash there when you visit).
If none of those apply, we strongly encourage you to look at your other options for Ending a Lease early! The end result is the same (someone new moving in to your apartment, and taking over the rent) but the landlord has to do more work finding that new tenant, and you have no more obligations even if that new person breaks the rules or owes money.
Steps for Subletting
1. Landlord permission. Check your lease for rules about subletting or "assignment".
- If you have a month-to-month lease or are a tenant-at-will, you are never allowed to sublease without the landlord's permission. But it doesn't really matter! You can end your lease fairly quickly, with or without their permission, by giving a simple written notice. Wis. Stat. 704.09(1)
- If you have a lease for a set term, like one year, you can sublet with or without the landlord's permission, unless they prohibit this in the written lease. Wis. Stat. 704.09(1). However, even if you're allowed to it is never a good idea to move someone in without their knowledge, since they may not respect that person's rights if they don't know they are a tenant there. It's always best if you can get the landlord's permission too, but at the very least you should tell them who is living there.
2. Roommate permission. (Don't have roommates? Consider other ways to end your lease!) You always need permission from the other tenants to add someone to the lease. You can only change essential terms of the contract if the other parties to the lease agree to it. This means your roommates have to approve of the person moving in, the amount of rent they will pay, etc. Work it out among yourselves as to who will be putting ads up and doing showings, when they will meet the roommates, what the criteria will be, etc.
Tips for the person moving out: You want to be as accommodating as possible so they will accept the new roommate. Think about it from their perspective, and keep the communication open.
Tips for the person staying behind: You also want to be fair in accepting or rejecting a new potential roommate. If the current person leaves without being able to secure a replacement, you can try to get rent money from them down the line -- but usually not before the landlord starts the eviction process! The landlord can come after either or both of you for the money, but as the person living there you are at risk for losing your housing -- not your roommate who left. Also, if you don't accept several applicants in a row, your previous roommate might get angry and just stop paying rent.
3. Sublet agreements. Here is a sample Sublease Agreement you can fill out or use as a template. It's a very good idea to have everyone sign a Roommate Agreement as well, where applicable. Whever you do, you will all need to agree on a few important things like:
Who will the subletter pay rent to?
It is safest if they pay directly to the landlord. They are at risk for eviction if the sublessor takes their money and doesn't put it towards the rent on time!
How will you handle the security deposit?
It is safest for the landlord to do a check-out with the old tenant to return their portion, and then do a check-in with the new tenant and collect a new deposit from them. However, this takes time and energy and the landlord is not required to do this. If they won't, the tenants have two options:
One is for the old tenant to sign their deposit over to the new tenant, and in the meantime collect that amount of money from them. The risk with this option is that the new tenant might not like the amount they get back -- and they would be able to sue the landlord or the old tenant for anything they felt was unfairly deducted. ATCP 134.02(5) & (12).
The other is for the tenant moving out to simply wait until the end of the lease term for the landlord to return their deposit. The risk here is that the old tenant might get charged for things the new tenant damaged.
Either way, it will be very important for everyone to follow all of the security deposit laws and best practices about checking in! For more information, see our page on Security Deposits in the City of Madison.
4. Subletting fees.
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My roommate moved someone in without my permission. What can I do?
My roommates are rejecting every possible subletter. What can I do?