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The Do's and Don'ts of a Lease Takeover for an Apartment

Devon Thorsby

You didn't expect it when you signed a yearlong lease several months ago, but it turns out that you need to move out of your apartment before those 12 months are up. One option is to find someone to take over your lease.

What Is a Lease Takeover?

A lease takeover, also known as a lease assignment, occurs when a new tenant takes over the remaining term of a departing tenant's lease, with the approval of the landlord. Unlike a sublease, when the original tenant remains responsible for payment of rent and the condition of the apartment, a lease assignment removes the original renter from the contract entirely.

There are legal stipulations that allow you to break a lease without penalty, including a move for active duty military assignment and failure of the landlord to maintain a livable environment. If you're breaking the lease for any other reason, though, talk to your landlord about lease-break options that could help you avoid hefty fees. For example, you may be able to sublease the unit or leave the apartment and continue to pay rent until the landlord finds a new tenant.

But your best bet may be a lease takeover, if your landlord permits it and you can find a qualified tenant. And if you're a renter looking for a short-term option, taking over someone's lease can be an excellent way to take advantage of lower rental rates. We've broken down the do's and don'ts of an apartment lease takeover for both the departing tenant and new tenant.

[Read: Considerations When Renting Out a Room]

Finding Someone to Take Over Your Lease

A lease takeover requires not just finding a qualified tenant, but also the approval and cooperation of your landlord. Even if all goes according to plan, you can expect to pay an additional month's rent or a fee to cover the application process and paperwork for a new tenant.

Victor Mota, owner and property manager for Mota Properties in Anchorage, Alaska, says requests for lease takeovers are common, but not without penalty. "You've lost the security deposit and probably next month's rent," he says, adding that this is a typical case for a lease takeover at one of his properties.

Here are the do's and don'ts of having someone take over your lease:

-- Do read your lease.

-- Do talk to your landlord.

-- Do offer incentives.

-- Don't forget about cleaning.

Do Read Your Lease

Before you post an ad for a renter willing to take over your lease, check your lease contract to make sure it's allowed. The lease agreement may state that a lease assignment is not allowed, or that a sublet or lease break is preferred.

Even if your contract rules out a lease takeover, explain the situation to your landlord once you have full understanding of what's in your lease. "First, read your lease. But no matter what the lease says, always reach out to your landlord. ... You both want to make sure you're both on the same page," says Phil Horigan, founder of Leasebreak.com, an online platform in New York City for short-term leases, sublets and takeovers. Your landlord may be sympathetic to your situation, or you may get a better understanding of how to break your lease.

Do Talk to Your Landlord

Approaching your landlord for a calm conversation about your options will help smooth out the process of a lease takeover. You often need the landlord's cooperation for a credit check or to draw up paperwork, Horigan says.

Not all states have laws that directly address lease takeovers, in which case the parameters set in the contract apply. In other cases, however, the state might allow the landlord to set rules or penalties regarding lease takeovers.

Under Missouri law, for example, a landlord has the right to double the rent on the existing lease if the tenant has someone take over the property without prior permission from the landlord.

[Read: Landlord Raising the Rent? Here Are Your Options]

Do Offer Incentives

As is the case with a sublease, you may have better luck finding a new tenant if you sweeten the deal a bit: cover the security deposit, pay for the entire month even though you're moving out mid-month, or cover the cost of the application and credit check that the landlord requires for a new tenant.

Point out any rent deals you may have received when you signed the lease. Make note of the $100 off per month for a 12-month lease you received, for example, that shows why this short-term lease may offer cheaper rent than a different apartment in the same complex.

Don't Forget About Cleaning

While your landlord may agree to let a new tenant take over your lease, the deal may not include professional cleaning and painting before he or she moves in. Thoroughly clean your rental before you leave -- that includes the walls, carpet, oven, stovetop, freezer, cabinets and bathroom.

How to Take Over Someone's Lease

You may only need to rent a place for a few months, or maybe you're hoping to find cheaper rent and avoid a yearlong lease -- either way, a lease assignment could be a good option for you.

Here are the do's and don'ts of taking over an apartment lease:

-- Do prepare for a credit check.

-- Do inquire about conditions.

-- Don't go behind the landlord's back.

Do Prepare for a Credit Check

Just because you found the apartment or rental home through an individual doesn't mean you get to skip the standard process of approval by the landlord. "Be prepared to have a credit check run (and fill out) an application," Horigan says.

To officially take over someone's lease, most landlords require the same application process, as well as a background and credit check, that is conducted for every potential tenant. The bottom line: If you wouldn't qualify for a lease at the property under normal circumstances, don't expect to qualify for a lease takeover.

Do Inquire About Conditions

To agree to a lease assignment, a landlord may require an additional fee or may not be willing to have the apartment professionally cleaned and painted between tenants. However, the departing tenant may offer to cover professional cleaning or clean it himself. In any case, find out what condition you can expect the apartment to be in ahead of time. Ask the departing renter and check with the landlord as well to make sure you're on the same page.

"The more information you can get from the landlord for the lease, the better," Horigan says.

[Read: 12 Ways to Decorate Your Apartment on a Budget]

Don't Go Behind the Landlord's Back

It may seem redundant to inquire with the landlord when the departing renter has already told you a lease takeover will be fine. But as the future tenant on the apartment, you want to make sure you have approval from the landlord. Have any approval documented to avoid potential issues down the line.

At the end of the original lease term, you'll typically have the opportunity to renew a lease if you'd like to stay for a longer term. Because it's a renewal, you won't have to pay another rental application fee or amenities fees. But if you prefer the short-term rental option, you have an easy out by letting the landlord know you'll leave at the end of the lease.



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