So, your friend of a friend has an empty bedroom in his rented condo. He wants to pocket some extra spending money each month by becoming your landlord. You agree, figuring it's easier to go this route than be subjected to a credit check and huge deposit, and a friend of a friend is still a friend — so what could be so complicated? A lot.
Before you fork over the rent for a sublet, there are plenty of questions that you should ask. You don't want to end up losing money — or, even worse, be out on the street the next day.
Look at the Lease
Ask to see the original lease. If there is a clause that indicates subletting is not allowed — and that type of clause is generally more common than not — you and your friend could be evicted within days of the landlord finding out, depending on your state's eviction laws.
A landlord wants to know who is living in his property. He wants to vet the renter and make sure he has a good, responsible tenant in place. If your friend brings you in on the down-low without permission from the landlord, you may be in violation of the lease and subject to getting the boot. If the lease allows subtenants, meet the landlord if possible before renting.
Co-Tenant or Master Tenant?
If you rent directly from the other renter, he is effectively your landlord, and, in many states, can evict you, just as the landlord can evict him. Will you be listed as a co-tenant or as a subtenant? A co-tenant takes equal responsibility for the rental unit and may have to put up a deposit equal to the original tenant before moving in. Roommates who are co-tenants cannot evict their fellow co-tenants in most states.
What Are Lease Terms?
Ask when the lease is up on the unit. You may have plans to stay for six months or longer, but if the original tenant's lease expires in two months and he neglects to tell you, you could end up with no notice and no place to live. Find out whether you will pay month-to-month or need to sign a longer agreement with the original tenant.
Rent and Move-In Costs
Ask the master tenant what the rent, security deposit and move-in costs are. Some tenants who sublet and plan to be away from the rental may want the entire rental period up front. If you take the rental unit, make sure you get a receipt for the security deposit and sign a written agreement with the master tenant. Do an initial walk-through and note any existing damages so that you aren't responsible for those when you move out.
Utilities and Other Expenses
Ask what the average monthly rate for utilities is. If the master tenant moves out for a period of time and leaves you with a 300-channel satellite dish you don't want, or Wi-Fi you don't use, you will have that unnecessary added expense. Ask if he will consider splitting some of the cost of the utilities with you, especially if you are only subletting one room while he's away. Ask who does repair or maintenance on his unit if something should happen in an emergency.
Elle Smith has been an advertising professional for more than 25 years. Her work for ABC, CBS and Sony Pictures Television has appeared on radio, on air, in print and outdoors. In addition, Smith has more than 20 years experience in marketing, graphic arts, commercial photography and print production, and is a licensed real estate agent with property management certification in California.