Dear PoP – tenant/roommate sublease question

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoP,

I own my condo and rent out the second bedroom to my roommate. She expressed interests in subleasing her bedroom during the holidays for 3 weeks, which I was ok with initially, but then I remembered that I wasn’t going to be home either. So if she ends up subleasing to a complete stranger, that person is going to have the place to him/herself for at least 2 weeks. My condo is completely furnished with my stuff, not to mention I have all my personal information stored there. If anything gets stolen, what legal actions can I take? Would my roommate be responsible for replacing the stolen items, will condo insurance cover things like this? What are the steps I need to take to protect myself from liabilities (other than telling her no she can’t sublease)?”

Hmm, with concerns like this (which I think are valid) I probably wouldn’t permit a sublease for such a short term. But if you already said yes, not sure what can be done about it now. What do you guys think?

60 Comment

  • If you feel like you can’t back out since you already said yes, I would get a deposit from the subleaser, and then take your valuables/personal items with you or lock them up.

  • Wow. I know the economy is hard and everyone could use a few extra bucks, but just say no. Too many valid concerns and not enough time or ways to address them.

    UNLESS, the roommate knows the sublessee and agrees in writing to any liability that results.

  • 3 week sublease? wtf. Unless it’s a close trusted friend, no way. Otherwise, most sublease agreements that I see explicitly state the original tenant is responsible for any and all damages caused by the sublease. You must get this agreement in writing if you have concerns like this.

  • You people are nutz : )

    Why not just leave your front door open with a sign that reads “Help Yourself”

    What part of Rural Iowa or Minnesota are you from? This was a good Friday giggle, thanks. : )

    • These types of holiday and travel subleases aren’t uncommon in major cities. I don’t know what part of DC you live in, but I’ve used these for travel in London, SF, NYC and Chicago. There are entire websites devoted to nothing but short term subleases exactly like this. (Hell there’s a whole section of Craigslist devoted to it.)

  • You are nuts for allowing this.

  • If you can’t get out of your approval, the answer is that any legal action would be against your roommate/tenant — the one with whom you have a contract (you do have a lease, I hope). She then has the issue with the sublettor.

    But I would never, ever, ever let a tenant sublet space for just 3 weeks, whether or not it included access to my space/possessions. It’s just too short a time period. The sublettor has nothing to lose; you, however, have everything to lose.

  • My previous landlord also owned the home and rented out the extra 2 rooms. One year the third roommate wanted to sublease her room for a month. He agreed but after he and I talked about it he realized it probably wasn’t the best idea (same reasons the original poster noted). He decided to put pad locks on his door and my door and we just made sure we kept our valuables locked in our rooms when we weren’t around. He also made sure that the the third roommate signed something that said she was responsible for all damages or costs associated with the sublease. All in all it worked out fine the subleasee was to busy or shy to even come out of her room the entire time she was at the house.

    • I must be missing something. Did you not feel bothered that they had a key to your house and could come back at any time after the agreement was over, long after you removed your padlocks?

      May be I just have more in my home to loose, I can’t imagine allowing anybody the opportunity to go through my belongings, steal my identity, heirlooms, things I worked hard for all my life. The peace of mind is worth more to me than any cash I would get out of a months rent.

      • I’ll I’m saying is that in our case it worked out fine, even with our fears of robbery. unlike the OP, my old land lord was present to collect the key when the subleasee left. that doesn’t mean she couldn’t have made a copy. I believe he also had the subleasee sign a contract (short term lease/ sublet agreement) and go through the normal credit check process and provide references. If you rent to strangers even on the long term their is still the fear they could rob you.

  • BWAHAHAHHHAAA! You are so fucked.

    But, seriously, just tell them you changed your mind. You’re all adults, right?

    • I guess if you want to be nice about it you could let her not pay the 3 weeks’ rent.

      • No, why should the owner have to take a loss when the roommate is gone?

        • I mean if the roommate launches into some sob story about how she was counting on that income and now she’s screwed at the last minute. You never know, the roommate could go ahead and steal something from the owner later, to “make it up”.

        • It would be the decent thing to do if she already allowed roommate to sublet. I had a roommate who agreed to let me have a friend stay over the summer. At the last minute my roommate changed her mind, and the friend, who was here on an unpaid internship, had to scramble at the last minute to find housing. She had to beg and borrow rent money, and even then could only afford a bedbug-infested room on a sketchy part of NY Ave. She’s resented me for this ever since.

  • I would get a very large security deposit, and also consider checking in with your homeowners insurance to make sure you are covered in case of theft from a tenant/subtenant.

  • Do you have a clause in your lease about guests? Could the subtenant be considered a guest?

    • Critical point: typically, 3 weeks is less than the period of a month under which a temporary tenant is a “guest.”

      You may not really have any say over it at all. (Still, the tenant would be responsible for either her guest or her sublettor.)

      • Doesn’t really matter. If the roommate goes against the owner’s wishes, the owner will force her out with a rent increase now or in the near future. It’s really a question of what burning that bridge would be worth — especially since a “guest” can’t pay the roommate any money for rent.

      • Nope. If the “guest” is paying rent, then he or she is not a guest.

  • Apologize and say you’ve changed your mind.
    If you for some odd reason can’t get out of it, you can
    a- get a house sitter
    b- put a lock and alarm on your room and put all your stuff in your room
    c- give roommate a discount so a subleaser is unnecessary
    d- demand a huge deposit.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    Most condo associations do not allow subleasing. We get a lot of GWU students who want to sublease for the summer and it is strictly prohibited.

  • Wait, is this really so crazy? Would everyone have the same response to someone (aka me) thinking of renting out his condo for a week over the holidays? Is there anything other than a basic short-term rental contract and hefty up-front deposit I should be thinking of?

    I thought it was fairly common to do short-term rentals these days, especially in a place like D.C.

    • “Would everyone have the same response to someone (aka me) thinking of renting out his condo for a week over the holidays?”

      The difference in this scenario is that it’s YOUR condo.

      In the OP’s situation, she already has the full month owed to her by the tenant per the terms of their lease. It doesn’t matter to her whether the tenant rents out the room or not; she gets the payment either way. But if she does let the tenant sublet, she is letting a complete stranger into her house with no benefit to herself.

      • And you’ve hit the exacta bet.

        Landlord/owner is in absolutely no better situation from this situation: the rent would be due to her, either way. The tenant wants to improve her situation by subletting and getting some of that rent back. That’s great for her, but some, if not all, the risk of an unknown quantity — the sublettor — falls on the landlord. 90% chance the sublettor is perfectly normal and does no harm, but the 10% chance that she pulls a Grinch and yanks everything out of the house, destroys the kitchen in a meth-lab accident, etc. is not one any sane person should want to take on.

        Honestly, the best solution is that you charge your current tenant a $2000 sublet fee, which you will refund in full if the sublettor leaves the place as she found it. If not, you have at least some comfort that you’ll be able to cover $2000 in damages.

        • Someone who needs a place to stay gets a good value – the roommate gets a few hundred dollars to pay for their trip home – the landlord gets the chance to meet an interesting new person (and could easily ask for $$$ of the sublet bounty.) Why is everyone so dull and rigid about this? I am dismayed. . .

          • If you really feel that bad about it, you should let a stranger stay in your house over the holidays for free.

          • So not wanting strangers in your house when you’re not around is “dull and boring”? If you have locks on your doors you’re a hypocrite.

    • Yeah, actually. I rent out a room in my house to longterm roommates, who I have vetted with a credit check and references – and I always make sure I’m around for a while when they first move in.

      The idea of a stranger coming into my house for weeks when I wasn’t around is extremely unnerving ESPECIALLY in a place like DC. There’s just too much to lose if it goes south.

      Sorry, roommate, man up – you committed to a lease, you honor it.

  • Ok, so I thought a 3 week sublease was crazy too, but I didn’t want to seem like a tyrant, so I told her if she has a friend that needs a place to stay then it’s fine. But in hindsight she can just get a random person and I wouldn’t know the difference. I’ll definitely get something in writing that says she’ll be responsible for whatever damages or theft, but is that enough if something does get stolen and I have to take her to court?

    • Doubtful. If she needs to sublease for 3 weeks to supplement her income or get cash, what makes you think she has enough to cover any losses that may occur? You’re crazy for allowing this. Your best bet is to demand a VERY HIGH deposit and hope they don’t cause damage that goes beyond that. The sublease she signs should dictate that the deposit is paid to you– not to her.

    • Damages (such as holes in the wall and burn marks on the carpet) would probably be covered if you had to go to court — you can always take photos of damage — but theft is much harder to prove to a judge’s satisfaction. You’re likely to face the following questions: was the item really stolen, or did you just lose it? Did your cleaning crew take it? Did you ever even have such an item or are you trying to cash in? You’ll just have to trust me that these questions create such a toss-up for a judge that he or she is likely rule that you haven’t sastisfied your 51% burden of proof. That is, unless you have photos of all of your items and/or receipts. Even then, some of the above questions may not be answered in your favor.

      Also, it is highly unlikely that your losses will be covered by insurance, unless you’re willing to lie and say that the person was a houseguest or you actually have a landlord policy. Once you introduce a business arrangement to the equation, you’re no longer covered by most homeowners or renters policies. You might get away with it once, but I wouldn’t file any more claims as long as you have your policy (which is essentially throwing your premium money away).

      All in all, this seems like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.

      • Forgot to add that if the drafter of your condo’s bylaws was doing his or her job right, there will be 2 rules that you’ll be violating. First, even when leasing a unit is allowed, subleasing is usually not. Second, in order to prevent investors from turning their condos into short-term flophouses, most condo associations prohibit leasing (whether sub- or not) for fewer than 30 days. Sometimes even year-long terms are required.

    • If you’re going to let her sublease, have the sublessee sign a subletting lease and change the doorknob on your bedroom door to one which requires a key – lock anything you’d have concerns about the wrong person getting into or walking away with in your room while you’re gone. Any damages to the apartment would ultimately come out of the roommate’s security deposit (if not paid for by the sublessee, right?)
      Personally, I wouldn’t allow this kind of short-term subleasing to anyone who you or your roommate doesn’t know – be sure to at least screen the person (for instance, find out why they’re in DC and need short-term housing and verify it – i.e. if they’re moving to DC for a job and need a little time to find a permanent housing situation, verify with their new employer, etc).
      Good luck!

    • Your roommate is taking advantage of you. Stand up for yourself. If anything, the sub-leasee should be paying you.

      The roommate’s trying to profit off the condo you’re paying for, so she can have a free vacation. She’s selfishly taking money out of your pocket and exposing you to a risky situation. I wouldn’t call a person like that a friend. There’s some serious disrespect in her even broaching the idea.

  • Just speak up and say you’re not OK with it. No one should have to feel uncomfortable in their own house. I’d focus less on how you’re going to handle legal fees and more on how you’re going to prevent the situation from happening. Be proactive about it, don’t wait until after it’s happened to protect yourself!

  • I’ve hitchhiked all over the world – accepted the hospitality of hundreds of random people and have extended that same hospitality in my own home to others over the years and never had a problem. Never as in never. As in I have handed over keys to my house to people I barely knew.

    The worst rip-off I’ve had in my own home was from a handyman (that I found on this site a week ago) to fix a shower faucet.

    Of course you need to be careful and smart – but really – most people aren’t out to get you or your stuff. It isn’t hard to get a sense of people.

    • Can you share the name of the handyman? I appreciate “wouldn’t recommend” as much as a “recommend”

      • I’m still reluctant to do that as I’ve been waiting for them to at least provide the receipt for a part that they say they paid $75.00 for – (and which I found in my supply catalog for $25-37.00) Cyberlife is too infinite to smear someone casually.

        But word of advice – find out what they mean when they say they charge $50.00 an hour – they could be counting it as lawyer’s hours – with every minute – including time it takes them to figure things out that they don’t really understand – counting to your bill.

        Also their claim for time spent going to Home Depot to buy the part (which I could have got it through my supply catalog in one day) and extra 10-15 minutes of showing them potential future jobs to do around the house.

        Generally bad taste and I’ll never use them again, but still undecided about actually posting them as evil.

        • That sounds like a handyman I used (initials MJ). Didn’t know what he said he knew, and charged me to figure it out. Bah. Nice enough guy but can’t stay in business with current practices.

          • Yeah – MJ is him. Seems like a nice guy – and a neighborhood guy so you want to work with him – but sheet – I got totally screwed in this case.

          • Didn’t someone post he was unreliable?

            I know another person who used him and was significantly overcharged for a sloppy incomplete job.

          • Someone named Joanna recommended him, then an “anonymous” said he was bad. I generally dismiss anonymouses – but I guess that really makes no sense since I don’t know Joanna either. But my regular guy was away and I needed the shower fixed before Thanksgiving, so took a chance. Bad move.

        • Thought the “not reliable” would be enough to prevent people from making the same mistake I made. Sorry ’bout that.

    • Good point– the success of sites like Couchsurfers is testament to that.

      Given the duration and time of year, the subletter will be probably a student who needs a place to crash while their on-campus housing is shut down. Probably not the profile of a criminal, though you neve know.

  • What about bedbugs?
    I don’t mean to sound like debbie downer but this short-term tenant could be coming from an infested place and you’d end up with some nasty stow-aways.

    Say you are sorry and blame it on your condo board rules. If (s)he says they need the money I’d be more worried about his/her ability to pay next months rent than offending her/him.

    “Just say no!” – N. Reagan.

    (wow all that fear and a Reagan quote I sound like a Fox News nut job)

  • I dont think this is too big of a deal, I used to house sit and have stayed in random people’s houses for weeks. Ofcourse they do an employment check and get a reference or two. Just do that and you should be good to go. If you are really that concerned, get a deposit, do a credit check, get a copy of the driver’s license and social security card.

    Dont screw your roommate because you said yes earlier. Never go back on your word. It is not a good trait. You should have put some more thought on it earlier.

    • Agreed with the going back on your word thing, but here’s the major difference: The people who hired you to house sit made a choice that they were comfortable with. Maybe not a choice that I would make, but so be it.

      The OP isn’t the one bringing the subtenant on, and doesn’t appear to be a choice that he or she is comfortable with.

      As an aside, I find it ironic that someone would address their concerns about leaving a house unattended by entrusting it to a stranger. Friend, coworker, friend’s coworker, I get, but a complete stranger? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole point of having a house sitter?

    • Whoa, the property owner is somehow screwing her roommate by rethinking a bad idea? You’ve got to be kidding me. How about this lesson: if you’re renting, keep it professional, and don’t burden people with propositions regarding money, when you have to live in the same space afterwards, whether they say no, and esp. if something goes terribly wrong. That would seem to be the better moral of the story here.

  • Yeah, ok, got that letter about the census – but the wife – well, not actually wife – there was this whole annunciation/handmaiden of the lord kind of thing – god’s kid, not mine – but anyway – we had to travel to get counted by the government and wound up in this f**ing sh**hole of Bethlehem where no one would give us a place to stay – yeah alright – it’s busy with the census and all and I didn’t make any reservations – my bad – but really – what do you think is going to happen if you take us in? We steal your jar of olive oil? Come on – we’re preggers with the son of god – can we crash on you couch for a night? There’s candy canes and chocolate in it for you . . .

    • So… the letter-writer should accept a subtenant because said tenant might be bearing the offspring of a deity?
      I dunno… I mean, the innkeeper gave Mary the best he could offer under the circumstances, and what did he get for it? Bright lights keeping his other patrons awake, a grubby bunch of nomads waving the BC equivalent of Yankee Candles around, and then not even a named character in the books and movies about the “blessed event”. Sounds like a lot of trouble for nothing, to me.

  • The premise of this question is false. I would never, ever let my tenant select a sub-letter for my house, whether or not I was going to actually be there. I’m not sure why people think that if they are vacating they have the responsibility to find a replacement. They would have no interest in finding a good match for the folks who would be in the house.

    It’s your house. You get to decide. You need to withdraw your permission since you won’t be there. It’s really very simple. She didn’t raise this as an issue when she moved in. You have a right to the rent despite the fact she will be absent. No landlord offers “vacation” discounts…

    More on sharing housing at

  • This is nuts. If you believe you are covered by having your renter sign something, without rock-solid language and advice from an attorney well versed in this particular area of law, AND well versed in the DC code, you literally will be without assurance that piece of paper protects you adequately.

    To recap:

    You have no idea who your renter will allow into your home.
    You have no idea if your piece of paper will adequately protect you.

    The important phrase here is “I didn’t want to seem like a tyrant.” You are placing your personal psychological weakness over and above the obvious risks. There is nothing tyrannical about protecting yourself, your home, your possessions. There is nothing tyrannical in stating you’ve thought a proposal over, and you are declining. If your renter has a huge problem with that, then find another renter.

    This isn’t about a renter and a sublease, this is about you not realizing you hold in life the power, the right, to say “No.” Heck, it sounds like you don’t even realize you have the power to say things like “let me think about that before I respond” and then follow up with “no.”

    If this situation doesn’t bite you and teach you to use that power, it’s only a question of time as to when/how you’ll be presented with that lesson. Be strong. It’s your life, your house, your stuff. Renters come and go.

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