If your landlord tells you that you can't sublet under any circumstances, or that they have a blanket policy against sublets, you can push back in a few different scenarios.
First, if you live in a state like New York or a city like Chicago that gives tenants the right to sublet even if their landlords ignore or refuse them, then you should point out the applicable law to your landlord and let them know that they are breaking it.
Second, if your lease agreement says that you are allowed to sublet with landlord consent then state law may also be on your side. For example in California the law does say that if your lease has a consent clause they do need to give you consent instead of just refusing you.
Make sure you have a qualified subtenant
Of course, if you don't present them with a prospective subtenant who is as financially qualified as you then your landlord would be able to reasonably refuse to. Assuming you have found a great subtenant, then they can't arbitrarily reject the applicant: they must have a commercially reasonable cause for objection. They need to be able to prove one or more of the below claims:
- A good faith belief that the proposed assignee or sublessee would not meet the financial obligations under the lease.
- The need for alteration to the premises for the use of the proposed assignee or subtenant.
- 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.
There have been plenty of previous cases where landlords have tried to do this, tenants have taken them to court and the judge has ruled in the tenant's favor. For example in Louisiana when a landlord refused to let a commercial tenant sublet, forcing the tenant to pay thirteen months of rent and an early termination payment instead, the tenant sued them and won the twelve months rent of rent as damages. In Illinois, a landlord refused to give consent to a request for sublease because they preferred to lease directly to the proposed subtenant and had to pay $1.6M in damages to the tenant who was refused.
Practically, it's best to put the relevant laws down into a letter and send it to your landlord formally so that you have a paper trail. Ideally, you will be able to change their mind. If you cannot and you decide to move forward with your sublet anyways, you will at least have documentation that you tried to get consent and informed them of the relevant laws.
If things were to escalate, then you could sue for damages. You would be arguing that the refusal was unreasonable, and would rely on relevant court cases from your state as precedent.
If you think your landlord is acting in bad faith then we suggest you also learn about his or her duty to mitigate damages. This concept is intertwined with reasonable versus unreasonable refusal of a proposed sublet or assignment. It's extremely likely that your landlord is obligated by law to accept a replacement tenant in order to avoid unnecessarily losing rental income.
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