Student Legal Services at Ohio State recommends students go through their lease with an attorney through Student Legal Services at Ohio State before entering a sublease agreement. Credit: Lydia Weyrich | Assistant Campus Editor

Every summer, many Ohio State students leave Columbus to study abroad, work or simply head back home. Most might wish to return to the same apartment the following year, but sometimes it is not economically feasible to pay rent for an empty room in the meantime. 

Enter: the sublease.

A sublease allows a tenant to rent out their room on a temporary basis to a third party, keeping the space occupied so they can return to the same place the next fall. Though this might seem like the perfect solution, there are scams from outside parties and legal intricacies in formal agreements that tenants should watch out for.

David Limbert, a fourth-year in economics, was looking to sublease his apartment from January to July this year. After posting his listing on the company’s website, Facebook and Craigslist, he encountered a deluge of emails that were either spam or had malicious intent. One scammer even tried asking for his mother’s banking details.

“It was very odd,” Limbert said. “We’re like, ‘You don’t need that information.’”

However, many scams are less overt and there are a few ways to spot them, Molly Philipps, chief counsel at Student Legal Services at Ohio State, said. It is common for someone to reach out who isn’t able to view the property in person.

“Ultimately, the biggest red flag is they send more money than what you’ve asked for, and they ask you to deposit the check, which looks very legitimate, and then send them the remainder,” Philipps said.

Aside from scams, there are details in the fine print that tenants should look out for in their sublease agreements, Philipps said. Every landlord has different policies, and renters should read the entirety of what they sign and avoid making any assumptions.

Not all landlords allow subletting, some only offer it during certain months and some claim to permit it but are actually referring to an arrangement called an assignment, Philipps said.

Assignment is similar to subleasing in that the current lessee finds someone to take over the apartment, but they do not return to the apartment once the assignment lease is up.

Limbert said he did not check his landlord’s subleasing policy before leasing his apartment and was fortunate to have chosen one that allowed it. Not all tenants are so lucky.

“Don’t rely upon text message communications or communications via social media to really memorialize the agreement that you have with the other party,” Philipps said. “We have forms, sublease agreements on our website. But we also strongly encourage students if they’re entering into a sublease to come into our office so that we can give them some good advice and ways to protect themselves if they’re planning to actually sign a sublease agreement with another party.”

Limbert said courtesy and a solid form of communication are key to a successful lessee/sublessee relationship.

Philipps also said students should understand what their lease agreement says.

“Students need to pay more careful attention to the terms of their lease agreements to figure out whether or not their landlord will work with them on subleasing,” Philipps said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you know what you’re getting into.”