Q: I’ve lived in a rent-stabilized one-bedroom in Bedford-Stuyvesant since 2013, and I never want to move out. However, my mother is ill and I need to leave New York for at least three months to care for her, meaning I may need to sublet the apartment. What should I look for in a subtenant? What agreement do I draw up, and how does my landlord factor in? How do I make sure the subtenant takes care of the place, and then moves out when I come back?
A: Under state law, you are allowed to sublet your apartment with your landlord’s permission, but you may ultimately decide that you don’t want to.
First you need to find a good subtenant. Post the listing online, then interview potential subtenants and ask for three things: references from previous landlords, at least two years of tax returns, and proof of employment, including recent pay stubs. You should also check their credit and limit candidates to those with an annual income of roughly 40 times the monthly rent.
“You want to subject a subtenant to the same level of scrutiny that a landlord would subject a tenant to,” said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants. “You want to know they make enough money to pay the rent.”
Once you find the right person, draft a sublease agreement and require a one-month security deposit. Mr. Himmelstein recommends the Blumberg residential lease, which is available online. You can add clauses to it, restricting pets or indicating that the rent will rise in lock step with the rent on the prime lease. (As a rent-stabilized tenant, you are not allowed to charge more than the base rent. But you can charge a surcharge of up to 10 percent for a furnished apartment.) Since you are unsure about how long you will be away, you could offer a three-month lease with the option to extend it, or a six-month lease with the option to terminate early.
Jumping through so many hoops for such a brief period of time might feel like overkill. But remember, you are covering quite a bit of risk. Your subtenant could damage the unit, or stop paying the rent and refuse to leave. In that scenario, you would still be responsible for the rent and unable to terminate your own lease at the end of the term because the apartment wouldn’t be vacant. Until New York’s eviction moratorium ends, you’d have little recourse in housing court. The moratorium was recently extended through Jan. 15.
Before you hand over the keys to an apartment you love, weigh those risks against the cost of carrying the rent for a few months. You may decide it’s better to absorb the rent and know that your beloved apartment will be in the same condition you left it when you return.