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Subletting Laws in California

Subletting a rental is permitted in California if the landlord doesn’t expressly prohibit it in the lease agreement. But a landlord can still reject the proposed subtenant for certain reasons.

When it comes to subletting a rental unit in California, what the lease says goes. Tenants can legally sublease their unit unless the landlord specifically says they can’t in the lease—and even then, depending on where they live, they may have some leeway. Some California cities, like San Francisco, are more permissive when it comes to subletting. But no matter where they are in the state, landlords have the right to be selective in who they allow to sublet a unit (as long as their requirements are reasonable).

Landlords can ban subletting in a lease

Landlords in California can legally prevent tenants from subletting if it’s explicitly stated in the lease agreement.1 This gives landlords ultimate control over who is living in the rental. Even with such a provision, tenants may still be able to sublet, depending on where in the state they live. The city of San Francisco, for instance, allows roommates to be added or replaced as a way to make living in the city more affordable (more on that below).

Leases can require tenants to get permission to sublet

Some leases require tenants to get consent from their landlords before they can sublet. Some leases may not even mention subletting—which usually means it’s fine to sublet.

Either way, a California tenant who wants to sublet their unit should get permission from their landlord (unless the laws in their city say differently). Tenants should always make sure a landlord is in agreement with a sublet, including the proposed subtenant and the term of the sublet, to avoid any future problems. While not required, it’s always a good idea to get this permission in writing so there’s a record of it.

Landlords can’t deny a subtenant for just any reason

While some landlords may allow for subleases without consent, others might only allow it if certain conditions are met. A landlord can only deny a proposed subtenant for reasonable objections, like if the subtenant:2

  • Is a danger to other people living onsite
  • Has poor credit
  • Doesn’t provide needed information to the landlord
  • Provides false information to the landlord

Court cases in California have only addressed the question of reasonableness in reference to commercial leases, but the same rulings probably apply to residential leases. The leading California case on this question found that a landlord couldn’t deny a proposed subtenant who was financially qualified and willing to carry out the terms of the original lease.3

Any landlord who refuses to consent to a subtenant must have a “good faith reasonable objection.” Reasonable objections don’t include the landlord personally disliking the proposed tenant or wanting to charge a higher rent.

Sublease agreements should be in writing

Once a subtenant is approved by the landlord, the tenant and subtenant should create a written sublease agreement to make sure they’re on the same page. It should include the dates of the sublease, information about any rental and utility payments, and note the condition of any furniture and other personal property in the unit. The tenant should also have the subtenant read and initial the original lease. Both the tenant and subtenant should sign the written sublease agreement and have their own copy.

Subtenants must follow the terms of the lease

Whether the subtenant is moving in with the tenant to help with rent or replacing the tenant for a certain period of time (like summer break), they must still abide by the terms of the original lease agreement. That means if the lease says no pets, for example, the subtenant can't move in with a cat in tow. The tenant is responsible for ensuring that the subtenant follows the terms of the lease.

If the subtenant doesn’t follow the terms of the lease or the sublet agreement, the tenant can evict them through regular eviction proceedings. Landlords can’t evict subtenants because they are not named on the original lease.

Tenants must still pay rent to the landlord

Just because a tenant sublets their unit, it doesn’t mean they’re off the hook for rent. The tenant is ultimately responsible for paying rent to the landlord, even if some or all of that rent comes from the subtenant. Subtenants typically pay their portion of the rent to the tenant, who then turns around and pays the landlord.

If the subtenant fails to pay rent, it’s up to the tenant to make sure full rent is still paid to the landlord. Failing to do so can result in eviction of the tenant by the landlord.

San Francisco almost always permits subletting

San Francisco is one city in California that is a lot more lenient when it comes to subletting. Even if subleases aren’t allowed in the lease agreement, the city typically allows tenants to replace or add more roommates as a way to keep rent costs manageable. Tenants must ask their landlord for permission to do this in writing. The landlord has 14 days after receiving the letter to accept or deny the proposed subtenant.4 A landlord who denies a proposed subtenant must have reasonable justifications for doing so and provide those reasons in a letter to the tenant.

For leases in San Francisco that don’t include any clause on subletting, tenants don’t have to get landlord approval before having a subtenant move in. However, they can’t have more people living in the unit than are allowed by the lease. Landlords also can’t prevent the child of a current tenant from moving into a unit, as long as they’re under 18 years old.

Subleases can be ended with 30-days’ notice

Ending a sublease is much like ending a regular lease. If there’s no end date listed on the subtenant agreement, either the tenant or the subtenant must provide at least 30 days’ notice to end the sublease.5

[1] CCR §1951.4

[2] City and County of San Francisco Rent Board

[3] Kendall v. Ernest Pestana Inc. (1985)

[4] City and County of San Francisco Rent Board

[5] CCR §1946.1

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.