Tales of a First-Time Subletter

A subletting novice shares her experiences and newfound wisdom.

7 minutes

By Taylor Smith

As I began moving my belongings into my summer sublet, it was immediately clear that the permanent resident and I had slightly different definitions of the word “empty.” And the charming array of shoes and mystery cords left behind in various nooks and crannies has turned out to be an apt metaphor for my sublet so far — nothing crazy, but not exactly what I signed up for.

Another red flag? On my first night, I made a beeline for the fridge, eager to snack on the sliced mango I had left there a few days prior. Surprise! It was gone, leaving me with no juicy late-night nibbles, but only a generous serving of irritation.

What had begun as a Millenial’s dream — affordable sublet in the city, convenient location, young and sociable roommates — was rapidly devolving into a pretty mixed bag. The roommates? Nowhere to be found for a week. As I roamed the apartment alone, wondering why the stovetop was covered in crumb-littered foil paper and why I hadn’t asked for the WiFi password, I thought, This could have gone a bit better…

One week later:

Things are on the up-and-up, but it’s safe to say I’m no poster child for the ideal subletting experience. For those of you still looking to sublet a place later this summer, or just getting a head start, here’s how not to end up like me:

1) Reach out early, often, and safely.

Take it from someone who almost immediately found herself trapped in a Craigslist scam: it’s a free-for-all out there. Use Craigslist at your own risk; even Facebook has its limitations, as there’s only so much admins can do to filter out creeps and con artists. At RoomZoom, we guarantee a safe roommate- and apartment-searching experience; we try to vet all members, and if someone is offering their place as a short-term sublet please make sure they have real links to their social media and don’t ask you for all the money in advance or without meeting in person.

2) Always visit in person.

This should go without saying. You know that dress you bought on a few months ago in what you thought was your size, and now you throw it on occasionally and pretend it fits? Committing to a sublet you haven’t visited is like that times 1,000. If you’re feeling apprehensive, ask a friend to tag along. Apparently, the nice young woman who decided to sublet the room next to mine missed this lesson — unpleasantly surprised, she skipped town the next day…

3) When you do visit, look CLOSELY at the space.

When I visited my current sublet, I was so relieved to find it lacking in the shortcomings of previous rooms that I didn’t take much stock of any shortcomings at all. Granted, when you’re looking for a short-term sublet (about two or three months), your criteria are going to be different than when you’re looking for your next home, and that’s OK. It’s important to be realistic, but strike a balance. For example, I only realized there was no dresser after I moved in. No big deal, but that’s the type of thing you should make an early note of so you can plan accordingly.

4) Get move-in and move-out dates squared away ASAP—along with how that date fits into your roommates’ schedule.

I sorted out my move-in date quickly and easily — only to find that everyone on vacation the next day. If you’re subletting a multi-bedroom apartment, get a sense of your other roomies’ schedules around your move-in date, so you can address any little questions beforehand if they’ll be away.

5) Get it in writing.

This I can’t stress enough. Keeping it casual can only go so far — you may not have reached middle age quite yet, but you’re an adult. Though I asked the permanent resident for paperwork to sign, I never received any. So let’s just hope my next post doesn’t detail my adventures in getting evicted.

6) Communicate!

This one goes out to those renting out their rooms as well. Do you want to find the person whose room you’re staying in in the living room one Saturday night, asking to come in and look around for belongings they left behind? Because I certainly didn’t. Let the incoming tenant know if you’re going to be back in town or returning to the room at any point, and if you’re the one who needs the room, ask those questions early on.

7) Sweat the small stuff.

Ask about trash day, mailbox keys, where household items are kept, how shared space is used — my current sublet is a de facto storage unit, with a suitcase-stuffed “living room” that would make Martha Stewart cringe — and any seemingly trivial matters that come to mind; you’ll feel better knowing all of that in advance.

8) Establish a support system and a backup plan.

If you find yourself in a situation that just isn’t going to cut it, you’re going to want a fallback. Keep family and/or friends abreast of your situation — at some point, we all need a couch to crash on.

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