You find the perfect apartment, but someone already lives there. Good news though, they’re willing to do a lease transfer. So, what does that actually mean?
Although everything you can and can’t do when renting is often spelled out in the lease agreement, there are some gray areas. Say, for example, someone needs to move out before their lease is up in a place that’s perfect for you. With the landlord’s approval, you can initiate an apartment leave takeover, which sounds much harsher than it actually is.
A lease takeover agreement is a winning situation for everyone involved. The current tenant can move out without penalty. The landlord finds a vetted prospective new tenant to take over the current lease and pay the remaining rent. And you get to move into your ideal place without having to wait for a lease to expire.
The only caveat? This process is about more than signing on the dotted line of a formal lease takeover agreement. You’ll have to go through the application process, get the landlord’s permission and check all the boxes of being a good new tenant.
So, how do lease takeovers really work, and what do you have to do to become the official tenant? We’ll tell you.
Is taking over a lease agreement the same as subletting?
First, let’s get the terminology straight. A lease takeover is not a sublet although both require you to take over paying rent, and both allow you to occupy the home. Since they’re different, you want to make sure the right lease terms are on the agreement you sign.
A sublet keeps the name of the original tenant on the apartment lease. You sign a separate, sublet agreement with that tenant. If the departing tenant fails to follow the lease obligations, the property manager could very well terminate the lease early. Your behavior wouldn’t play into the decision at all, but you’d be out of a place to live.
A takeover transfers the lease directly to you. You become the official tenant for the remaining term of the lease. There’s no other party involved in the rental that could impact your ability to stay.
Is a lease takeover a good idea?
You may find yourself in certain situations that are perfect for a lease takeover. If you’re interested in an apartment but not sure you can commit for a year, taking over an existing lease could give you the time you need to decide if you want to stay longer. Since short-term rentals are harder to find and often more expensive, a lease takeover solves your problem.
Another situation where a takeover might work is if you need to find a place to live in the off-season when inventory is low.
Even if you’re not in a rush to find a new home, but have your eye on a particular building that never has vacancies, you could take over someone’s lease and get in before the apartment goes up for rent.
No matter the situation driving you to consider taking over a lease agreement, when you do, the biggest benefit is getting to work directly with the landlord. There’s no middleman working between you. You officially become the new tenant and the only person responsible for the rules of the lease agreement.
How do you take over someone’s apartment lease?
If you think a lease takeover may be better for you than trying to find a vacant unit to rent, the first thing you need to do is find options. Landlords may start simply screening for new tenants, in which case you may not even know it’s a takeover of someone else’s lease. In order to be certain of the opportunity, you should check rental websites and social media for lease transfers that align with your needs.
Most posts or ads should include how much time is left on the lease in addition to unit-specific information.
Once you find a place you think may work, you’ll have to navigate the process of being a responsible prospective tenant.
1. Visit the apartment
Just as you would in any other home search situation, you must look at the property first. Any renter who won’t let you see the apartment is probably hiding something. Even though the unit won’t be empty, since someone is still living there, schedule a time to go in and check the place out.
Major red flags to look for include water damage, cracks in the walls and ceilings and any damage to the structure of the apartment itself. You can check the heat and air conditioning too, flush the toilets and turn on all the faucets just to make sure it’s all in working order.
If possible, you also want to see how noisy it seems once you’re inside the unit. Are the walls thin? Can you hear your neighbors stomping around? Ask the current tenant whether there’s a lot of noise at any given time to make sure it won’t bother you and won’t conflict with trying to sleep.
As closely as you look at the actual apartment, also take some time during your visit to check out the building itself. This may feel like a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it.
2. Get the landlord’s consent
You may primarily speak to the original renter when negotiating a lease takeover, but you cannot make this deal in a vacuum. You must include the landlord or property manager, and most likely get written permission to go ahead with the lease takeover.
Most landlords will write into the original rental agreement rules for a lease transfer, and it’s up to the current renter to follow those rules. To secure the landlord’s permission, expect to go through the same process as any future tenant would. You’ll have to undergo the same application process, get both credit and background checks and show you’re the right tenant for the space.
With all this, your best bet is to loop in the landlord early. Make sure you voice any concerns if the current renter isn’t bringing the landlord into the conversation.
3. Ask about cleaning
Since a lease transfer is basically like starting over as a new renter, you should expect the landlord to care for the property as if you were signing a new lease. Normally, when a tenant moves out, the apartment gets cleaned and checked for damages. This is a professional deep cleaning that readies the place for someone new. You’re someone new, so you deserve to move into a clean space.
Although the landlord may require the current tenant to pay the cleaning fee, you most definitely shouldn’t have to cover it, nor should you let it slide if this doesn’t happen.
Make sure you talk to the current tenant and the landlord about this need prior to signing the lease transfer.
4. Put it in writing
When all parties are happy with the terms of the lease takeover, it’s time to do some paperwork. You, the landlord and the tenant sign an official contract known as an assignment of lease to finalize the transfer.
This can be a simple contract that includes a few key pieces of information:
- The location of the rental
- Date of transfer
- Date of the original lease agreement
- Language that confirms the landlord permits the transfer
- Language that specifies you are the new tenant
Local laws may dictate other elements that belong in this contract, but these basics keep everyone responsible for the transfer in a way that protects you as the new renter.
5. Read the actual lease
Included with the assignment of lease, you should also have access to the lease. Before signing anything, read through the entirety of the lease carefully, taking note of each lease term.
Make sure you’re on the same page as your new landlord. Once you sign, it’s hard to dispute anything.
Most leases should be straightforward and include information on how and when to pay rent, how to submit maintenance requests, rules for subleases, a guest policy and any other rules or details that will help you be a good renter.
If there’s any language within the lease that’s confusing, make sure to ask the landlord about it. It’s your responsibility to understand the agreement, and a landlord should be willing to provide clarification.
What about the security deposit?
Another perk of a lease takeover is not having all the typical upfront costs of renting a new apartment. Lease takeovers allow you to become the new tenant without a security deposit or first and last month’s rent. All of that already happened when the initial lease was signed.
Based on the terms of that lease, the current tenant may have to forfeit their security deposit, but that won’t impact you either. As the new renter, coming into a lease transfer, you aren’t responsible for these upfront costs unless you decide to renew the lease.
Once the original lease is up, in theory, the landlord returns the deposit (minus any deductions for repairs) to the original renter.
There is a possibility the tenant moving out will ask you to reimburse them for the security deposit, and transfer their initial deposit to you once you move out. This isn’t a bad option, but things can get a little weird when it comes to paying for damages.
If you don’t want to lose money to cover damages made before you moved in, ask the landlord to do an inspection of the property and charge for any repairs now before you move in and take over the security deposit.
What about unpaid rent?
Again, since a lease takeover is a clean break from the old renter to you, the new renter, any unpaid rent will not fall to you. If the existing tenant takes their leave without covering the rent they owe, the landlord will handle it according to the terms set out in the lease.
A lease takeover could work for you
Being a new tenant under a lease is never easy. Although the process to get approved for a new home is tedious at best, lease takeovers give you a little flexibility. Their potentially shorter rental period can save you from having to pay rent longer than you need, and you don’t even have to sign a new lease.
What’s important is to move forward carefully when dealing with lease transfers. You want to have all the information and be sure the landlord knows what’s happening.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.