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Can My Landlord Refuse to Let Me Sublet in California?

Like most things involving sublets, the answer depends on what it says in your lease. But some California cities, including San Francisco, give tenants more rights.

Subletting is one of those topics that's generally governed by your lease, rather than by California state laws. Here are a couple of common subleasing scenarios that might apply to you:

  • Your lease says nothing about subletting: Your landlord can't unreasonably refuse to let you sublet. If they do, you could potentially sue for damages and terminate the lease.1
  • Your lease says you can sublet with landlord approval: Your landlord can't unreasonably refuse to let you sublet if you present a qualified applicant.
  • Your lease bans subletting: Your landlord is allowed to refuse a proposed subletter for any reason, or no reason at all.

These are general statewide guidelines, however. The rules may vary depending on which California city you live in—and if you are attempting to sublet your entire unit or just part of the unit.

Subletting regulations in San Francisco

If you live in San Francisco—and your lease contains a clause that says you can sublet or assign with landlord consent—then your landlord can't ignore or refuse your request without giving you a reason.2 The law also outlines the process your landlord should follow.

Within five days of your landlord receiving your request, your landlord can turn around and ask that the proposed tenant submit a standard rental application. This allows the landlord can run a background check. Your landlord can only request a credit or income check if the subtenant will be paying rent to the landlord

Within 14 days, if your landlord hasn't responded to your request in writing with a description of the reason for denial—including specific facts supporting the reasons for the denial—the request is considered approved.

If your lease in San Francisco specifically prohibits subletting, then the situation is a little more complicated. You definitely aren't allowed to move out and sublet the entire property—as long as the clause in the lease is in boldface type and initialed by you, or your landlord gave you a written explanation of the subletting ban when you signed the lease. If the lease designates a specific number of tenants and one has moved out, however, then you can replace that tenant even if the lease prohibits subletting.

Subletting regulations in Oakland

Similarly, in Oakland, if your lease specifically prohibits subletting, then you definitely can't move out and sublet the entire place. However, if you continue to live in the unit and replace the departing tenant(s) with the same amount of subtenant(s), Oakland’s ordinance states that a landlord may not unreasonably refuse a tenant's written request to sublet. A failure to respond to the tenant’s request to sublet within 14 days is considered an approval.3

Subletting regulations in Berkeley

The City of Berkeley has adopted the same approach as Oakland: if your lease says nothing about subletting, then you may sublet. Your landlord must lay out a well-founded, commercially viable reason for refusing a subtenant in writing. If your lease absolutely prohibits subletting, then you may not sublet—unless you are replacing another tenant on the original lease.4

Subletting regulations in Los Angeles

The City of Los Angeles doesn't differentiate between the subletting of one’s apartment to replace a roommate and the subletting of the entire property. So, if your lease bans subletting, then neither type is allowed.

Subletting regulations in Santa Monica

In Santa Monica, a master tenant may replace other tenants who have moved out with the same amount of subtenants—as long as the master tenant continues to occupy the apartment. This master tenant must make a written request. If the landlord fails to provide a commercially viable reason to reject the proposed subtenant within 14 days, then they're considered approved.5

[1] CA Civ Code § 1995.310

[2] SF Administrative Code Section 6.15

[3] Oakland Code of Ordinances § 8.22.300

[4] City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board FAQs

[5] Section 1800 of the City Charter of the City of Santa Monica

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