Landlord Tenant Law: Subleases

Situations can arise where a renter who has entered into a written lease agreement for a fixed period of time needs to move out (even if only temporarily) before the lease term has ended.   Maybe the tenant got a new job suddenly and needs to relocate.  Maybe the tenant knows he or she won’t be able to make rent payments anymore and wants to avoid an eviction on their record.  Maybe the tenant is a college student and plans on going home for the summer but wants to return again in fall.

We hear a lot of people asking how they can “get out of their lease” in situations like these, and while generally a tenant can’t back out of the lease terms (it is a signed contract to the landlord, after all), there are options out there for tenants.  Tenants can’t cancel a lease, but with the landlord’s agreement, they can sublease or assign the original lease to a new tenant- for a short period of time or for the remainder of the lease term.  In this article, we will discuss the sublease option.

In a sublease, the original tenant is either bringing in a new roommate to share the rental unit with them (this might happen if the original tenant is having trouble paying the rent by themselves), or the original tenant is completely moving out and allowing a new “subtenant” to move in, usually for a fixed period of time.  Under a sublease, the original tenant is still ultimately responsible for paying the rent, and the subtenant will pay the original tenant, not the landlord.  If the subtenant does not pay the rent, the original tenant is still liable to pay the landlord.

A sublease is a separate, written agreement from the original lease.  It should contain when, where and how the rent should be paid, define who is responsible for utilities, and set forth the dates that the agreement begins and ends.  If the original tenant is leaving any property in the rental unit that they want to collect later, each item should be listed and its condition described.   It’s especially important to list all the property left in the unit if you are a tenant who is subleasing the apartment for only a short period of time and plan on returning shortly (like the situation with the college student moving home for the summer).

Many times, the landlord includes a provision in the lease that prohibits the tenant from adding subtenants.  Landlords will do this because it is in their best interest to know who is living in their rental units, and who is paying the rent.  However, even if the original lease prohibits subleases, the tenant can try asking the landlord to agree to lift this provision and allow subtenants.  Even if the original lease doesn’t contain a provision prohibiting subleasing, a tenant should get the landlord’s approval before they execute a sublease, and even offer the landlord a copy of the written sublease.  This is a common courtesy and it’s important to keep relations between landlords and tenants friendly and respectful on both ends.

It is recommended you consult with a real estate attorney about your landlord-tenant concerns and inquiries. For more information, please contact Richardson “Red” Griswold of Griswold Law at (858) 481-1300 or

Be sure to check out the Griswold Law Blog’s complete list of articles of concern for tenants here.



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