June rental advice: Vacationing this summer? Sublet your pad and save some dough
You're headed out of town and won't be using your apartment, but that doesn’t mean someone can't crash there – and pay your rent.
Summer’s almost here, and vacation calls. But for renters, paying for an unused apartment back home while you’re lounging at the beach can sting. That rent check doesn’t even go toward a mortgage. Aside from reserving space for future use, it’s precious money that might as well go into the garbage.
That is unless you, the renter, start to think like a homeowner, and remember that all living space is valuable. If you’re paying for it and it’s legally yours (in many ways), what’s to stop you from using it while you're away?
Aside from the landlord’s prohibition — and in that case we do encourage some well-researched, professional pleading — not much. So consider the often-overlooked option of the sublet. If you’re able to let someone else use your space, it could bring in good money for the gas tank or plane tickets.
In honor of such summer entrepreneurship, we’d like to devote the first of our monthly rental columns to this notion of maximizing use. We’ll also toss in some current vacation-rental hot spots, and briefly tackle the question that would-be sublessors most often ask: How do I protect myself?
Let someone else pay
In Manhattan, it’s become de rigueur to sublet one’s rental, even if only for a weekend. Just look at Craigslist. New Yorkers know the value of what they rent.
But you don’t need to live in one of the country’s priciest and most-desired boroughs to draw interest. Punch in your town on Craigslist, or at other websites that list short-term rentals, such as VacationRentals, Sublet.com or Airbnb. Chances are, you’ll find others trying to grab that traveler market share that could be yours.
Still think your place isn’t “hot” enough? Then just consider the case of Keri Gathman, a computer programmer who sublet her half of a Chicago apartment twice — in January. If that doesn’t convince you that any locale is desirable to someone, you’ve never been to the Windy City in winter.
Gathman was paying $888 for her half of a two-bedroom apartment in a downtown Chicago high rise but had to go to Florida for work. The next winter, she wanted to volunteer in Africa for three months. Each time, she posted an ad on Craigslist, asked a lot of questions, drew up a sublease with the property-management firm, and took a $500 cleaning deposit.
“I don’t know why more people don’t do this,” Gathman says, “It’s been really simple. I’ve literally used Craigslist to advertise it and I’ve typically found somebody in a week or less.”
The experience came with some hassle. She had to clear space, screen candidates, track from afar whether bills were paid and, in one case, hire a cleaning crew. But it paid off — and more. Each tenant paid her half of the rent and utilities, got along with her roommate and left the apartment in good shape.
Most importantly, Gathman netted more than $6,300. One good tip-off for her that things would work was when the sublessees cautiously asked questions, too.
“You can just look someone in the eye and tell they’re not a crazy person. Then you take a deposit and hope for the best,” she says. “My furniture is nice, but nothing is an heirloom. Nothing is where it would be the end of the world if it was damaged.”
In San Francisco, Christopher Lukezik got the OK from his landlord to sublet his one-bedroom rental on weekends using Airbnb, where he works. At $150 a night, the Friday and Saturday night rentals funded 90% of his other winter rental in Lake Tahoe, essentially allowing him to indulge his “ski addiction.”
Keep in mind, though, that sites such as Airbnb don’t screen people on either side of the transaction, and such companies distance themselves from any responsibility if something goes wrong. It’s up to you to check, and double-check, any sublessee.
Where are the hot markets for summer vacation sublets?
HomeAway, a listing service for homeowners, tracks vacation-rental requests across the country, tallying the most popular and the fastest-growing areas. Here are a few cities that top one, or both, categories for this summer:
- New Orleans: Apparently, hot, humid weather is no deterrent. Interest in New Orleans as a summer vacation destination is up 205% over last year. That’s good news for renters looking to escape the Big Easy in June or July.
- Provincetown, Mass.: More vacationers look into vacation rentals at this funky Cape Cod arts community than at any other U.S. destination. Following it on the most popular list are Ocean City, Md.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Miami; and Gulf Shores, Ala.
- Las Vegas: Who needs bright lights, late nights and full service when a sheltered, private home is available? Proof that one need never assume that interest in sublets wanes when a strip of hotels beckons, Sin City comes in at No. 6 on HomeAway’s list of summer’s most requested spots for vacation sublets.
- Wimberley, Texas: Nor, apparently, should those with available property consider their locale too remote. This tiny town in the south-central Texas hills, a popular weekend getaway for Austin and San Antonio residents, has experienced the fourth-largest rise in traveler interest in one year, up 155% over summer 2010.
- Bethany Beach, Del.: Let’s not forget those who may live near a well-known summer hot spot. This touristy spot, replete with a wide boardwalk along the beach, is the seventh most popular site for vacation-rental requests. Don’t discount that apartment you may have within easy driving distance. Demand may be higher than you think.
How do I protect myself?
No matter how much you trust that nice sublessee, don't forget that it's your neck on the line should anything go wrong. We're not only talking about damage. If this person causes any problems for the neighbors, you can be held responsible. So heed this advice:
1. Get the landlord's OK. If your lease forbids subletting without the landlord's approval, violating that provision is grounds for eviction. If that happens, you’ll be the one looking for a place to sublet.
2. Draw up a sublease. It needn't be hard. In fact, it can be as simple as writing up a document that states the sublessee is responsible for abiding by all the terms of the original lease. Outline the dates for which he can be held responsible, and list the bills he must pay.
"You want to reference the lease that you have with the landlord," says Michael J. Romer, a real-estate lawyer with Romer Debbas in New York. "So basically any obligations that a tenant has under the lease, you want the subtenant to be responsible for."
Remember, if something happens, the landlord can and will come after you. His rental agreement is with you. However, you can use the sublease to go after the subtenant.
3. Do a background and credit check. Your landlord or management company could help file the paperwork, and you may be able to ask the prospective sublessee to pay the small fee, typically $20 to $50.
4. Finally, meet the sublessee and ask questions. If someone doesn’t feel right, reconsider. "Technically the subtenant is stepping into the tenant's shoes," Romer says. "So anything the subtenant does is the responsibility of the tenant."
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