Subletting your apartment in New York City is a lot like every other real estate transaction in the city. It’s stressful and confusing at first, but ultimately manageable and worth the hassle. That is, of course, if you know what you are getting yourself into. This guide to subletting in NYC is a great place to start. It’s important to note right off the bat that subletting is a legal right for New York tenants. Be forewarned, this guide goes through a fair amount of legalese, but we break it down and keep it simple for you.
Your Basic Rights to Sublet
First things first: Subletting is a specific right of tenants under New York law, which means that if you rent in a building with four or more units you are entitled to sublet your apartment. The major exceptions are if you live in public housing or a rent-controlled building or receive Section 8 public assistance.
Even though subletting is your legal right as a tenant, you still need permission from your landlord. You must provide a valid reason for subletting (i.e., something that proves that for economic, employment or health reasons, you need to leave your apartment). This can include moving to take care of a loved one, pursuing a temporary job opportunity or going to school. It cannot include relocating for a permanent job or renting or buying a new home somewhere else.
In addition to supplying your landlord with a valid reason for subletting and providing a formal request with 30 days notice, you must present a trustworthy sub-tenant who has solid personal references and stable financials. The duration of the sublease must be at least 30 days and no more than two years.
It’s also important to note that when you sublet your apartment, you’re still responsible for paying your landlord rent in full and on time. The subletter cannot pay your landlord directly so you will essentially be acting as a middleman between them.
If you have a rent-stabilized apartment, you cannot turn a profit by subletting (i.e., you cannot charge the person subletting from you more than the original cost of rent). The only exception is if you’re subletting your apartment furnished. Then you can add 10 percent more to the monthly bill.
How to Find a Subletter
Finding a good subletter is pretty much the most important part of the process. This person is going to be living in your home – probably even sleeping in your bed! Damn. You’re going to have to trust this person and be confident that he/she will take care of your apartment and your stuff. On top of being comfortable and confident in this person’s moral integrity and responsibility, you’ll want to be sure your landlord is on board too. It’s important to submit a formal request for subletting to him/her before starting the process.
The best place to start looking for a subletter is within your own social circle. Friends, family members or co-workers are good places to start. Not surprisingly, if you can personally vouch for your subletter’s trustworthiness, there’s a higher likelihood that your landlord will accept him/her.
If you have trouble finding someone reliable, there are other options that can help:
- Social media – Posting a well-written and detailed request for a subletter on your social networks is a good way to cast a wider net. Include high-quality images, details about your apartment, the building and neighborhood. Indicate what you expect of the subletter in terms of lifestyle, responsibilities in your absence and length of the sublease. You’ll get better, more appropriate leads if you can be specific with exactly what they can expect of the sublease and what you expect of them as subletters.
- Bulletin boards – Posting a printed flyer with description and pictures of your sublet can work well if you know and trust that particular spot. Maybe you feel very in tune with the community and vibe at your gym. If so, consider posting a flyer there. Or perhaps your office has a lot of like-minded, responsible people. Then consider posting a notice in the break room or kitchen. Include your e-mail and request some information from the interested party when they contact you such as employment and current living situation.
- Public networking sites – If you have exhausted all other options, posting your sublet on a site like Craigslist is a good last ditch effort. Most people are somewhat wary of Craigslist because it opens the floodgates to a whole world of strangers and makes the vetting system very taxing. Be prepared for a lot of people emailing you. The main problem with Craigslist is it is definitely more quantity over quality. You’ll get tons of leads, but it will take a while to sift through them all and find a decent one. To help weed out the riffraff, ask for specific information back. It’s common to both provide and request links to Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to help size up the good eggs from the bad.
How to Vet Potential Sublettors
Once you have found a couple of potential leads, it’s time to vet them. Remember, subletting is a big deal, a legal baton pass off of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions and require proof of employment and income. Here are some important topics to cover that will keep the process short and professional.
- Ask about your subletter’s job situation. Do they have a steady job that will ensure a steady income? Can they provide some recent pay stubs?
- If their job status isn’t secure, can they provide bank statements showing significant savings?
- When asking about someone’s lifestyle, begin by explaining the culture of the building you live in. Is your building full of recent college grads who love to host beer pong tournaments in the hallway? Then maybe it’s not the best fit for a potential subletter and her newborn. Remember, the more comfortable your subletter fits into your building and your apartment, the less likely there will be unforeseen problems.
- Finally, make sure to get some references and call them. Ask about the person’s responsibility, how they manage difficult situations and how dependable they are. If other people trust this person, you probably can too.
How to Price Your Sublet
If you’re in a rent-stabilized apartment, New York City law puts a cap on what you can charge to sublet your apartment. It can’t be higher than the rent you pay. This ensures that people aren’t renting multiple apartments to start a hotel business. There are some exceptions: if your apartment is fully furnished you can add up to 10 percent of your rental price to the subletter’s monthly bill. If you are subletting a co-op, you have more freedom to set the price since you aren’t paying a monthly rent. The co-op board will typically charge you some percentage of the rent you ask for as a sublet fee. Anywhere from 10-15 percent is common.
If you are in a market rate rental, you can charge whatever the market will be bear. This can be a boon to you if you’re underpaying in rent in a neighborhood that’s gaining appeal or highly coveted. To get a sense of the state of the rental market in your neighborhood, check out what comparably sized and outfitted apartments on Naked Apartments are charging. You can also browse Craigslist and Airbnb to see if there’s a difference between the long-term rental market and the short-term rental market. You really shouldn’t have any issue finding someone who will sublease your apartment at the price you are currently paying. If you are in a time crunch, however, you may need to cut the price to lock someone in fast.
Subletter Contracts/Terms of Agreements
Just in case it hasn’t been said enough already – subletting your apartment is a legally binding process. With that in mind, you will want a sublease agreement in place to afford you some leverage in case you have trouble with your subletter or your landlord. You should ask your landlord if they can provide a sub-lease that meets their standards. If they don’t have anything to offer, there are plenty of basic sublease templates online.
The sublease should include the agreed upon rent, the start and end dates of the sublet and any other stipulations you want to add. Many people require a security deposit when they sublet to ensure that they find the apartment in the state they left it in.
The Myths of Subletting
It goes without saying that subletting your apartment can be risky and even somewhat shady – especially if you don’t let your landlord know and fail to have a sublease agreement. It’s all the more shady if you use vacation rental websites like Airbnb or VRBO to advertise your apartment. If you own your apartment, you can list it on these sites legally, but in New York City, a renter cannot. If you do, you’ll be violating the NYS Multiple Dwelling Law that was signed into action in 2011. In addition, landlords are increasingly using short-term rental monitoring tools like Sublet Alert to ensure building and lease policies are being adhered to. While the chances of you getting caught are moderately low (unless you are running a mini B&B out of your apartment), the fines are certainly not, beginning at $1,000 to $5,000 and increasing for multiple offenses.
Subletting is a great tool in a renter’s arsenal, a way to ensure that signing a lease won’t hold you back from opportunities abroad. But the same laws that help people limit their losses as renters also works to ensure that housing in New York does not become even more of a commercial commodity. The next time you want to sublet your apartment, will you be ready?