If you’re a renter and you unexpectedly have to move to a new city for awhile, you face a few options. You can break your lease and move out; leave your apartment empty and continue to pay rent; or sublet your apartment.

If you want to avoid a lot of expense and disruption, you might prefer the third option. But if you do, it’s crucial that you find the right tenant and draw up a strong sublease agreement.

Whatever You Do, Keep It Legal

If you want a sublease agreement, you must do thorough homework. First, check your existing lease to make sure you are even allowed to sublet in the first place. If your lease does allow subletting, you still need to get official permission from your landlord before you sign a sublease. Texas subleasing law is very specific: If you don’t get consent, you and the subletter can be evicted and possibly even sued if the landlord believes he or she has been damaged by your arrangement.

If your subletter and landlord sign a lease agreement with each other, the tenant can communicate with the landlord for any repairs or issues. If not, however, you are essentially the landlord, and must act as middleman (or woman) between the subletter and your landlord — including requesting repairs and arranging payments. And unless your landlord specifies in writing that you aren’t responsible, you are on the hook if your subletter fails to pay rent or damages the place.

Protecting Your Interests

That means, among other things, that you must select your subletter very carefully. Try to work with someone you know, or someone who has excellent personal references. Because your name is on the primary lease, you are highly likely to be ultimately responsible for that person’s treatment of the apartment and the payment of rent.

You might consider using the services of a local property management group, not only for initial credit and background checks on a prospective tenant, but for handling rent and utility collections and payments, dealing with any problems, and communication between you and your tenant.

Write it Down

Even if you get a trusted friend to move in and take over a sublease agreement, you still need to get absolutely everything in writing. Just as your initial lease is a legal document, so is a sublease agreement. Your landlord’s permission should be in writing, of course. So should any secondary agreement, which must specify terms, dollar amounts, nonpayment penalties, consequences for nonpayment and damages, and means of enforcement.

In addition, check any agreements for services such as cable or Internet access, utilities, and subscriptions to ascertain the specific legal ramifications of any contracts. Depending on your findings, you can require direct payment, payment to you or your management company, or a new contract between the service provider and the subtenant.

Dealing with an extended period away from home may not be the easiest task, but if you’re careful, you can come back home to Texas and move right back into your old apartment with no problems.

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