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How to Sublet Legally in California

If your California lease says you aren't allowed to sublet and your landlord won't budge then there's no way to sublet legally in California.

California isn't the most tenant-friendly state when it comes to subletting. According to California law you must receive written consent from your landlord prior to subletting, and if your lease says no subletting, then that really means no subletting1.

Tenants can, however, legally sublease their unit if the lease makes no mention of subleasing rules.

Walk through these steps to sublet legally in California.

1. Check your lease.

In many states, lease agreements are actually illegal and voided by the law when they prohibit subletting, but in California this is not the case.

Read your lease and look for a clause about subletting. If it says you absolute cannot do it, you probably can't sublet legally. That said, you can still get in touch with your landlord directly and plead your case - they may be willing to change their mind.

2. Screen your subtenant carefully

The key to getting permission from your landlord is suggesting a subtenant who is as qualified as you are. This means that they pass the same requirements you had to meet in the first place.

If you find someone who makes even slightly less income it will be easier for your landlord to leave you in a lurch by refusing.

3. Mail a letter to get approval

To make sure you've covered all your bases you can send a letter to your landlord via certified mail, return receipt requested. Save a copy of the document for your own records. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept and thus is the best way to protect yourself. The letter should clearly outline the terms of the agreement and include the following information:

  • The term (starting and end dates) of the sublet or the date of the proposed assignment (30 days from when you sent the letter)
  • The name of the proposed subtenant or assignee
  • The permanent home address of the proposed subtenant or assignee
  • Your reason for subletting or leaving permanently
  • Your new address during the sublease if applicable
  • The written consent of any co‑tenant
  • A copy of the proposed sublease

4. Wait for approval.

If your lease says that you are not allowed to sublet under any circumstance then your landlord can ignore or refuse your request with impunity. If this happens, your only recourse will be to tell your landlord that they have a duty to mitigate damages by accepting your subtenant.

On the other hand, if your lease says that you can sublet with landlord approval or makes no mention of sublets then your landlord cannot refuse your request without a good reason2.

If you are in San Francisco and replacing a departing roommate then your landlord must respond within fourteen days. If they do not then you are free to sublet..

5. Collect and store a security deposit

Hooray - you're approved!

To protect yourself against damages to the apartment or any belongings that you leave in the space, you should take a security deposit from your subtenant. Follow California laws for accepting and holding security deposits as best you can. The most important thing to do is agree on the state of the apartment with your subtenant so that you don't get charged for damages caused by them.

6. Set up rent payments

You don't want to spend the first day of every month pestering someone for rent so that you can pay your landlord. You don't want to have to think about it at all.

Agree on a process for rent payments before they move in. Put this process in writing in the sublet agreement that you both sign.

Read about the pros and cons of using tools like Venmo and Zelle for rent payments before you make the call here.

[1] CCR §1951.4

[2] CA Civ Code §1995.310

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