Subleases & Roommates

If your landlord agrees in writing, you can lease your apartment to another person. If you will be returning to live in your apartment after the other person leaves, this is called a sublease. If you would like to sublease your apartment, you must first tell your landlord that you want to do this.  You must make the request in writing and send it by certified mail, return receipt requested.  You must include in your written request certain information about yourself and the subtenant which is required by the sublet law.

Your landlord then has 10 days to request more information from you. Within 30 days after you provide that information, or within 30 days of your original sublet request if the landlord does not ask for additional information from you, your landlord must either approve or deny the request. If your landlord fails to notify you whether the request is approved or denied, you can consider this an approval of your request.  Then, you may sublease your apartment. However, since you are the original tenant, you will have to pay for any damages to the apartment and you remain responsible to pay the rent to your landlord.

If your landlord decides to deny your sublet request, the denial must be reasonable.  Your landlord cannot unreasonably withhold consent to sublease. If your landlord denies your request, and you believe it was an unreasonable denial of the right to sublet, you can proceed to sublet, but at your own risk.  If your landlord takes legal action against you for the sublet (i.e., for subletting without permission), and you can show that the landlord acted unreasonably in denying your request, you may be able to make your landlord reimburse you for the legal fees you had to pay to defend against the landlord’s lawsuit.

If you are leaving your apartment permanently (that is, you are not returning) and you want to transfer your apartment to another person, that arrangement is called an assignment. Your landlord can refuse – reasonably or unreasonably – an assignment request; but the landlord must release you from your lease if your landlord unreasonably refuses to consent to an assignment.

In most cases, you may have a roommate. A roommate is generally someone who is not a family member and who is not named on the lease but who lives in the apartment with you and is not merely a short-term, temporary guest. In general, if you live in a privately owned building and you are the only tenant on your lease, then you have a right to share your apartment with your immediate family and with one other adult who is not related to you and that person’s dependent children.

There are several situations in which your right to have a roommate is restricted:

  • If two or more people have signed the lease, and your lease does not expressly give you permission to have another roommate;
  • If you live in public housing, subsidized housing or most subsided housing, you do not have a right to have a roommate;
  • If you receive a rent subsidy (such as Section 8 or FEPS) or a rent exemption (such as SCRIE or DRIE), or if your rent is based on your income, you may be required to report the rent the roommate pays you as part of your income and may cause your income to be too high to qualify for the program. You should be sure to check your program’s guidelines before getting a roommate and be sure to properly report any new roommates to the program administrators.

If you are covered by the roommate law, but your lease says that you cannot have a roommate, this part of your lease is not valid. But you must inform your landlord of the name of the new roommate within 30 days after the roommate moves in or within 30 days of when your landlord asks for information regarding the new roommate.

Legal Editors: Douglas Simmons and Eric Zim, July/August 2015 (updated March 2018)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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