Subletting Laws for the DMV
The D.C. metro area is teeming with transient and temporary residents, including college students, interns, and short-term staffers, ensuring plenty of relocating tenants wishing to sublet apartments and the demand to fill them.
Ads on Craigslist show sublets for just a few days while a tenant vacations several months or longer. Regardless of the duration, experts warn that subletting carries risks for the landlord and tenant and advise against it.
“Allowing subletting isn’t wise, especially in Washington, D.C.,” said Emilie Fairbanks, a landlord-tenant attorney practicing in D.C. She said district tenants can stay in apartments as long as they please, barring a valid reason to evict, and subletting brings in an unscreened tenant without a direct lease with the landlord.
“Instead of subletting, a landlord who is amenable to ending the current tenant’s lease could allow the tenant to help find a replacement,” she said. The landlord could then screen the potential replacement just like any other applicant, terminate the first tenancy, and sign a new lease directly with the new, qualified tenant.
“Everything is cleaner and much less likely to result in legal problems for you later,” she said.
Tenants may not take the same precautions property owners would in finding someone to live in the rental, and their pick could fail to pay rent, cause damage, or refuse to leave. Evicting subletters can be difficult; often the original tenant must be evicted as well.
Experts typically recommend that leases layout subletting policies and, if it is allowed, require tenants to obtain written permission first. If landlords do allow subletting, they should always screen the subtenant as they would any other tenant, Fairbanks said.
Northern Virginia landlords must respond quickly when tenants request to sublet. According to the Virginia Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, if a landlord does not respond within 10 days, the sublet is presumed to be approved.
Tenants who sublet become the subletter’s landlord, with all the legal requirements and responsibilities that go with it, Fairbanks said.
Because their name is on the lease with the landlord, the original tenants generally remain responsible for ensuring the rent gets paid and the property is cared for. However, if the original tenant has left town or left the country, recovering any losses may be difficult.