Tenant subletting: are you allowed to?

    You adore your rental property but sometimes life has a way of changing your circumstances.

    Perhaps you need to tap into extra funds to pay for your rent or other bills. Or, you need to temporarily relocate and want to make the most of your space. Subletting could be the answer. It can give you some financial relief while ensuring you continue renting the home you love

    As a tenant, can you sublet your home whether short term or long term? The simple answer is yes if allowed by your lease agreement. Keep reading our guide to find out more about this strategy and how you can make it work for you.

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    What is subletting?

    Subletting is when you (the person who has signed a lease for a property) rent out the property — completely or partially — to another person. Your subtenant will occupy the property under the terms of the sublease. This can be short term such as holiday rentals or long term if your subletter wants to stay on for the duration of the original lease term. 

    Subletting, also known as subleasing, offers a number of benefits for tenants. It can help you make extra cash by subletting the entire property or part of the property. If you still remain on the property, the extra tenant can share costs and responsibilities around the property. In popular holiday spots, subletting has become particularly lucrative to capture tourists in need of accommodation. Subletting can also be helpful if you need to temporarily relocate for a new job or personal reasons. It can ensure you hold onto the property and keep your rental record consistent. 

    Remember, as enticing as subletting is, you are still responsible for your rental property. Understanding the process and law will be in your best interest.

    What the law says about subletting

    Under common law, subletting is legal in South Africa unless your lease agreement states otherwise. In many cases, you’ll find a clause in your lease agreement that prevents you from subletting your property without the written consent of your lessor or landlord

    Even if your lease agreement doesn’t explicitly stop you from subletting, you are still bound by the following:

    • Municipal by-laws: In South Africa, local municipalities are authorised to regulate rental activity. You should check if there are any restrictions in place that prevent you from subletting property. 

    The City of Cape Town, for example, allows short-term letting from a house or flat but for a period not exceeding 30 consecutive days for the same guest. However, you would still need to abide by any rules set by your body corporate or homeowners' association.

    • Body corporate rules: Depending on the rules of your sectional title scheme, you may not have the right to let out your property on a short-term or long-term basis. This is often included as a regulation for short-term renters as they have less interest in keeping neighbours happy and pose a security risk. 

    • Terms of use for hosting services: Online marketplaces, like Airbnb, that specialise in short-term lettings for lodging and holidays are also clear on letting and subletting restrictions. Airbnb’s terms of service, for example, encourages hosts to comply with local laws, rules, regulations, and contracts with third parties before listing properties. 

    You can get into legal troubles and also be evicted from your rental property without permission. Check your lease agreement, local laws, body corporate rules, and the terms of service of your hosting site (where applicable) before taking the next step. 

    How to ask your landlord about subletting

    Without your landlord’s permission, you can’t proceed with subletting legally. A well-written letter outlining your reasons for subletting and plan for the process can help you present your case. It would also be helpful to show how you will adhere to securing a trustworthy subtenant and contingency plans for worst-case scenarios. Show you will collect the same information your landlord did when you applied for your lease:

    • A credit and identity check.
    • Income and employment confirmations from payslips and employee calls.
    • Monthly expense confirmation using three months of verified bank statements.
    • References from previous landlords.

    You will also need to be clear you will provide your landlord with the information and updates required so they can fulfil their obligations. Having an experienced property practitioner can help you navigate the process and ensure you stay on the right side of your landlord and the law. 

    How does subletting work?

    If your landlord hasn’t expressly forbidden you or has provided their permission, you can continue with your subletting venture. When subletting, you would need to draw up a sublease agreement that spells out move-in and move-out dates, rental payments, utilities, rights and responsibilities, and so on. 

    By subletting your rental property, you provide part or all of the property on rent but remain responsible for all the obligations with the (principal) landlord. You will act as landlord for your subtenant and maintain a tenant-landlord relationship as governed by the law. Your subtenant can only enjoy the same rights as you do as a tenant. Finally, you — not your landlord — are solely responsible for ensuring your subtenant abides by the sublease agreement and moves out at the end of their lease.

    prospective subletting tenants touring the house

    Get expert property help

    Home is your story, and Seeff would love to help you write a fantastic chapter. Whether you need advice on subletting or you’re searching for the perfect subtenant, we’re here to ensure you prosper through property. Contact our team today to get started.

    Author: Seeff Property Group
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