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MONEY CLINIC | I am considering subletting a property. What should I know?

Property subletting is becoming popular in South Africa, mainly due to aggressive increases in interest rates and the high cost of living.


Subletting might seem like a great option to help pay the rent, or if you’re moving somewhere else and can’t end your current lease. But while it might come in handy if you need the extra cash, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, says Shafeeka Anthony, marketing manager at JustMoney.co.za.

“It’s essential to check the terms of your lease before you start,” says Anthony. “You cannot sublet without your landlord’s consent – and even if granted, it may be against company rules. Illegal subletting can cause major problems and have ramifications .”

JustMoney lists some pros and cons when subletting a property and choosing a potential sub-tenant.

Advantages of subletting as the main tenant

  • Affordability: Subletting part of a flat or house will bring you more income and allow you to stay in a place you love but can no longer afford.
  • Flexibility: If you want to travel for an extended period or find a place more suited to your needs, subletting frees you up. Someone else assumes rental responsibilities. The sub-tenant could also take over the unit permanently when your lease expires, which may be fine with the landlord.
  • Penalty avoided: Subletting allows you to change locations without incurring the penalties that often accompany breaking a lease. Having someone pay the rent for the duration of your lease will help keep your rental record intact and maintain your credit score.

Disadvantages of subletting a property

  • Screening: You may need to screen many potential sub-tenants to find the right one for you. This could involve marketing your sublease as a landlord would, with the associated time and financial expense.
  • Payments: The sub-tenant cannot respect the conditions of sub-letting. They could skip payments, leaving you responsible for paying your landlord all the rent. If your subtenant damages the property, the landlord can hold you liable, which will affect your relationship with them and possibly make it difficult to rent in the future.
  • Management: Subletting transforms you from tenant to owner. Do you have the time and energy to respond to your subtenant’s problems, questions and complaints?
  • Evicting a sub-tenant: If your subtenant fails to pay and refuses to move, you could face a long and difficult process that may require a court order. If the situation extends beyond your own lease period, your landlord can claim damages from you for lost income.

Advantages of subletting as a secondary tenant

  • Simplified application process: Since you are not the main tenant, the approval requirements for subletting are generally less strict than for traditional leases.
  • Shorter duration: It is often difficult to find a lease of less than a year, but a sublease can involve the exact number of months you want, or even a month-to-month arrangement.
  • Lower deposit: Most landlords require two months deposit, which many people do not have. As a sub-tenant, you are likely to pay a lower down payment.
  • Good deal: Some tenants are willing to settle for a lower sublet, so they can move on quickly. You can get a sublet cheaply, especially if there is plenty of supply and you negotiate.
  • Neighborhood control: Subletting allows you to learn more about a neighborhood or a building before committing to a long lease, or a purchase. If you decide that subletting is the way to go, it’s essential to prepare an explicit agreement so that both parties know what is expected of them, says Anthony. Include things like rental amount, occupancy date, lease term, security deposit, and utilities covered. Other factors include how many people can occupy the property, how many vehicles can be parked, and whether pets are allowed. Take photos of the property and facilities before the subtenant moves in.

Do your homework, and for added peace of mind, consult a lawyer to make sure you cover all the necessary items in your sublease agreement, advises Anthony.

Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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