It’s common for apartment renters to sign a year-long lease at a minimum. Doing so buys you some financial stability by locking in your rent payments for a year’s time, and it gives your landlord steady income to look forward to.
But what if your plans change after signing your lease? Now that remote work is a more popular option, you may want to take advantage by ditching your apartment for the remainder of your lease and trying out a new city. Or, you may have the opposite problem — your remote work stint has come to an end, and now you need to move closer to your office.
No matter the circumstances at hand, if you signed a year-long apartment lease, you’re committed to paying rent for 12 months. But you may have the option to have another person take over your lease.
What Is a Lease Takeover?
Also known as a lease assignment, a lease takeover involves having someone else take over the remainder of your lease. It’s different from a sublet, because under that arrangement, you remain responsible for paying your rent and the substitute tenant you find pays rent to you. With a lease takeover, a new tenant pays rent to your landlord directly.
Phil Horigan, founder of Leasebreak.com, an online platform for New York City-based lease takeovers and sublets, says, “If you want to break your lease, you’re better off with a lease takeover than a sublet.” That way, he says, “The new tenant gets on a lease with the actual landlord.”
Do You Need a Lease Takeover?
If you need to move in the middle of your lease, it pays to talk to your landlord before assuming you’ll have to find someone to take that lease over. You may be surprised at how easy it is to just break your lease instead.
David Schein, a real estate broker and attorney based in Texas and Virginia, says, “Your landlord may view you needing to leave as an opportunity to raise the rent and let you out of your lease.” And that way, you won’t have to worry about finding a tenant to take your place.
When You Need Someone to Take Over Your Lease
It may be that your landlord won’t just let you off the hook as far as your lease goes. A lease takeover or assignment may be your best bet, so in that case:
1. Do read your lease carefully to see what options you have.
Horigan says it’s important to see whether your lease allows for an assignment or not. But even if it doesn’t, don’t assume that option is off the table.
“Even if the lease says you can’t do it, the landlord might let you out of your lease, or let you have someone take over your lease,” he explains. Furthermore, Horigan insists that even if your lease allows for someone to take it over, you should still talk to your landlord before doing anything, which leads to our next point.
2. Do talk to your landlord.
Your landlord should be looped in on your situation and should advise you on how they want to handle it. “A landlord may put the burden on you to find a new tenant, or they might have their own agent or broker to do it,” says Horigan, so have that conversation to find out.
Your landlord may also want to take over the process so they can vet a new tenant appropriately. “It gives them a level of control over who’s in the building,” says Horigan.
3. Don’t assume you’ll get your security deposit back.
Once you move forward with a lease assignment, your landlord might agree to return your security deposit, or ask the tenant who’s replacing you to provide one. But that’s not guaranteed to happen, so don’t bank on getting a check.
4. Don’t assume you’ll be able to move back into your apartment.
Once someone takes over your lease, you’re no longer on it. And that means you won’t necessarily have first dibs on that apartment once your lease term comes to an end.
When You’re Taking Over Somebody Else’s Lease
Maybe you need temporary housing in a new city, or you’re so desperate for an apartment that you’re willing to take over an existing lease. If you’re the one who will be taking over someone’s else lease:
1. Do expect a credit and background check.
“The landlord business has gotten a lot more sophisticated,” says Schein. “There are landlord networks where you can vet a tenant — not just in terms of credit, but in terms of violating a lease.” As such, you shouldn’t be surprised if a landlord insists on a full credit and background check before agreeing to let you take over a lease. After all, it’s their property and investment on the line.
2. Do have the landlord come in and observe the condition of the rental.
This is important, says Schein, because you may have to put down your own security deposit when you take over a lease. If the original tenant caused damage, you don’t want that damage attributed to you, because it means you may not get your security deposit back in full or at all.
3. Don’t assume you can’t negotiate a longer lease.
You may be taking over the last four months of another tenant’s lease. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to the landlord about locking in a longer term, says Horigan. In fact, Horigan explains, taking over a lease is a good way to get into a building that doesn’t have openings. And once you have that foot in the door, you may be able to extend your stay.
4. Don’t assume you’ll get a rental in pristine condition.
It’s common practice for landlords to do a thorough cleaning of an apartment and make repairs before a new tenant moves in under a fresh lease. But if you’re taking over somebody else’s lease, Horigan warns, “You may not get a freshly painted or cleaned home.” That’s something you’ll have to make your peace with — or otherwise bear the expense of a deep cleaning yourself.
That said, you can always talk to the landlord and ask what to expect when you move in. If you’re negotiating not just a lease takeover, but a longer-term lease, the landlord may be willing to put some work into the apartment to get it move-in ready.
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The Do’s and Don’ts of a Lease Takeover for an Apartment originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 11/08/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.