A landlord's ability to reject a tenant is regulated by both state and federal law. Nationally, the Fair Housing Act prevents a landlord from rejecting any tenant based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. This applies to individuals applying to become primary leaseholders, subtenants or who wish to have a lease transferred to them.
Additionally, landlord-tenant law in the United States puts general restrictions on whether or not a landlord can reject a primary tenant's request to assign their lease to someone else or to sublet. This was codified in the 1972 Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act. Some states adopted this act via legislation and some drafted new legislation based on the act with slight modifications.
The Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, or URLTA, says that a landlord may refuse consent to an assignment or sublease only if the landlord provides the tenant with a record signed by the landlord that: is delivered to the tenant within calendar days of the tenant’s request to assign or sublease the dwelling unit; and provides a commercially reasonable objection to the assignment or sublease.
In other words, it is likely that your landlord cannot refuse your request to sublet your apartment without having a good reason.
Commercially Reasonable Objection
What is a good enough reason for a landlord to refuse a sublet request? They need to be able to prove one or more of the below claims about the proposed sublease:
- The landlord’s good faith belief that the proposed assignee or sublessee may not meet the financial obligations under the lease
- The need for alteration to the premises for the use of the proposed assignee or sublessee
- An increase in the number of persons to reside in the dwelling unit after the assignment or sublease that could place an unreasonable burden on the premises or the use and enjoyment of the premises by all tenants on the premises.
- The landlord’s good faith reliance on information from third parties of the proposed assignee or sublessee’s inappropriate conduct
- The refusal of the proposed assignee or sublessee to sign a record agreeing to comply with the lease and the landlord’s rules and regulations.
The URLTA also says that a landlord can reject a tenant based on an unsatisfactory criminal background check, but more recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development prohibits blanket refusal to provide housing based on the presence of a criminal record.
If a landlord rejects a proposed tenant for unreasonable cause then the primary tenant could sue for damages not just based on the argument that the refusal was unreasonable but also by arguing that the landlord failed to mitigate his own damages (read: lost rent), which he is also required to do by law.
Read more about a landlord's duty to mitigate damages, and what that means for you whether you wish to sublet or assign your lease. Or, if you're ready to get a sublet started, make sure you're correctly screening your applicants and signing a legally binding agreement.
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