Subletting & Assignments

Once you have your rental unit, you may find that you want to bring in a roommate, go away for the summer, or even move out permanently before the rental agreement has expired. The sections below will give you information on subletting your unit, drawing up a sublease, calculating proportionate rent to charge your subtenant, understanding the security deposit, or assigning your unit.

Subletting Your Unit

Subleases are typically used when you want to:

  • rent a room in your unit to someone else
  • rent your whole unit to someone else for a specified period of time (e.g. summer break)

A sublease is a separate rental agreement between the original tenant ("master tenant") and the new tenant ("subtenant") who moves in to share the rent. With a sublease, the agreement between the original tenant and the landlord remains enforceable and the master tenancy is still responsible for paying the rent to the landlord. The subtenant will usually pay rent to the master tenant.

Check Your Rental Agreement

Many rental agreements and leases contain a provision that prevents tenants from subleasing rental units. In that case, you will need your landlord's permission before you sublease or assign the rental unit. Even if your rental agreement does not contain such a provision preventing you from subleasing or assigning, it is wise to discuss your plans with your landlord in advance. In any case, you should get your landlord's approval in writing. This may help you to avoid a dispute in the future.

Sublease

Any understanding with a subtenant should be put in writing and must be consistent with the terms of the original rental agreement. Tenants who sublease their units may not charge the subtenants more than the total amount of rent the master tenant currently pays to the landlord. Moreover, a master tenant who shares a rental unit with one or more subtenants cannot charge any subtenant more than a proportional share of the total rent the master tenant pays to the landlord. A good way to calculate the proportionate rent to charge the subtenant is based on the square footage s/he will have (see example below).

To prevent problems between a master tenant and a subtenant, it is important that a clear written agreement be drawn up that spells out the exact terms of the subtenancy. If the tenants will be roommates, the written agreement may include everything from rules about borrowing each other's possessions, a schedule for cleaning the shared areas of the unit, quiet hours, or whatever else might be important to the tenants. Be sure to check out our Roommate Agreements webpage to read more about this topic.

Example of calculating proportionate rent:
Sue is the master tenant in a 800 square foot apartment. Sue's bedroom, which is larger and has the walk-in closet, is 17'x15', equalling 255 square feet (including closet space). The smaller bedroom is 15'x12', equalling 180 square feet, including closet space. The shared space (kitchen, living room, bathroom) account for the remaining 365 square feet.

Total square footage: 800 sq ft
Total rent: $1700
Price per sq ft: $1700 / 800 sq ft = $2.125 per sq ft

Master tenant: 255 sq ft (bedroom) + 182.5 sq ft (half of shared areas) = 437.5 sq ft x $2.125 per sq ft = $929.69
Subtenant:
180 sq ft (bedroom) + 182.5 sq ft (half of shared areas) = 362.5 sq ft x $2.125 per sq ft = $770.31

Security Deposit

Landlords do not have to return the security deposit to anyone other than the person who originally paid that deposit on the lease. For roommates living together, it is important to understand the best way to deal with the security deposit. If the tenant who paid the deposit moves out while the other tenant stays, it is a good idea to have the landlord pay the security deposit back to the person leaving and then have the remaining tenant pay a new deposit on the lease. This will ensure that the new tenant will be able to get the security deposit back when s/he chooses to move out.

Assigning Your Unit

An assignment is an agreement to transfer the lease from one person to another. An assignment can be used in cases when the original tenant needs to move permanently before the lease expires. Under any assignment, it is important to clarify who will be solely or jointly responsible to the landlord: the original tenant, the new tenant, or both the original tenant and the new tenant. Both tenants and the landlord should make a written agreement that clarifies any new assignment of responsibility.

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