Tenants Becoming Landlords Through Subletting

By Joseph G. Ballstaedt

“Subletting” or “subleasing” occurs when a landlord rents a property to a tenant who then rents the property to another tenant known as the “subtenant.” A tenant may seek a subtenant so he can share rent expenses or he may want to find a subtenant while away for an extended period of time. In Idaho, subletting is legal unless the lease agreement between the landlord and the original tenant expressly prohibits it.

When a sublease exists, the original tenant is solely responsible for fulfilling the terms of the original lease with the landlord. For example, let’s say a tenant rents a larger, three-bedroom home for $1500 a month and then sublets two rooms to two roommates. Even if all three roommates agree to pay $500 a month, the original tenant is still responsible to pay the landlord the entire $1500 each month. It is no defense that the two subtenants did not pay their $500 because the landlord only has a contract with the original tenant, not the subtenants. (Similarly, the subtenants cannot enforce any of their contractual rights against the landlord.) This does not mean that the original tenant cannot seek reimbursement from the subtenants; it just means he can be evicted if he doesn’t pay the full $1500, whether from his own funds or with help from the subtenants.

Not only is the original tenant responsible for monthly rent, but he is also responsible for any damages to the property. For instance, if one of the subtenants breaks a window, the landlord can hold the tenant responsible for the damage. Again, however, the original tenant can still seek reimbursement from the subtenant.

What happens if the original tenant wants to evict a subtenant for violating the terms of the sub-lease? Generally, the subtenant has all the rights any tenant has and cannot be evicted without following Idaho’s eviction laws. Often times, an original tenant and a subtenant do not have a written contract. They may be friends who orally agreed to split rental expenses. In this case, the oral agreement, once partially performed, is usually enforceable, although its terms may be difficult to prove.

What if the original lease between the landlord and the tenant prohibits subletting, but the tenant nonetheless sublets the property? The original tenant would be in breach of contract and liable for any resulting damages. This conduct may also be grounds for eviction, and eviction proceedings against the original tenant would also likely apply to any subtenants. If the original tenant cannot fulfill the terms of his sublease with the subtenants (as a result, for instance, of being evicted), the subtenants have a breach of contract claim against the original tenant (assuming, of course, the eviction was not their fault).


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