How can I protect my apartment when subletting to strangers?
January 1, 2009 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I am subletting my NYC apartment for 3 weeks to strangers. How can I protect myself and my apartment?

I am going to Europe for 3 weeks, and I have found 2 groups of decent sounding people via craigslist to sublet my apartment while I am away. I intend to ask for half payment now to secure their stay, and the remaining half when they move in. How can I make sure my apartment isn't trashed? What is a reasonable deposit to ask for that will be returned when they move out? Should I get a copy of their drivers license? Should I change the locks after they leave? I am also slightly nervous that I won't get to meet them since they move in after I leave, so I will have friends or the super give them keys. Thanks in advance for helping out this nervous first time sub-letter.
posted by avex to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
get references! this is the most important thing I learned when I got burned. Talk to people on the phone who can vouch for the subletters.
posted by milestogo at 5:20 PM on January 1, 2009

Perhaps you can draw up a contract-type document for all parties to sign (you and the subletters) that describes in detail the condition of the apartment and all major appliances and pieces of furniture, and what the penalties will be if any of these items are broken or damaged. I would also recommend that you take lots of pictures of your apartment right before you leave.
posted by kitty teeth at 6:04 PM on January 1, 2009

have a contract. Even if it is lawfully ambiguous, the threat of legal action will deter them from ruining things (hopefully). References are good as well. Having an idea of the peoples' character is paramount as well.
posted by stratastar at 6:41 PM on January 1, 2009

For 3 weeks, ask for the whole amount up front. A simple contract wouldn't be a bad idea. When your friends/whoever give them the keys, have them do a walk-through of the place with the renters to explain what's off-limits & such. I know it's stressful, but these things more than often work out, especially if you have decent vibes about the people now .
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:57 PM on January 1, 2009

Since you're not doing f2f interviews you can't have the confidence that offers. Require that a friend cleans once a week --limit it to something simple like dust + take out trash, no more. This will allow you to be alerted of messiness or damage sooner than later. Take photos of the place before you leave. Be sure to get as much info about them as possible (without offending their privacy). Clarify the arrangement with your landlord. Probably no need to change the locks but include in the contract keys are not to be duplicated.
posted by ezekieldas at 7:27 PM on January 1, 2009

When I've sublet my place I do a declining rent system: the first month is double rent, the second month is regular rent, the final month is free, or whatever- to make sure the person stays and doesn't leave me high & dry. For your situation I'd say a deposit of at least half of what they're paying would probably be good. Maybe by PayPal or something, before they get there.

Have a trusted friend with good people-sense be the one to meet them somewhere public & safe, and hand over the keys. (Perhaps ideally a large, intimidating-looking male friend, depending on the people you're subletting to.) Stress to this friend that they have veto power- if they don't like what they see with the people, deal's off and you'll take the financial loss. Maybe have the same friend collect the keys face-to-face at the end, so that the people are inspired to keep the place cleaner as the friend will see the place before they get to leave.

Facebook friend the subletters if possible. If you don't like the lifestyle their facebook depicts, cancel the deal now.

Install a lock on your closet (just a padlock would be fine). Everything you don't want them into goes in the closet, and you lock it. You can also empty out a few drawers into the closet and maybe install some hooks on the outside of the closet door to give them some clothing space so they're not living out of a suitcase.

Beyond those security type measures, though, I actually feel that the best way to make sure they don't trash the place is to be so kind that they'd never want to. How?

Leave the subletters a very friendly personalized note. Leave take-out menus for your favourite places. Leave copies of the local arts papers for that week, and make a hand-drawn map of the area with post-it notes identifying good restaurants at different price ranges, nice walking streets, late-night convenience stores, and cool things to see. All the secrets of the neighbourhood. Take a bit of time with this- make a real effort to be nice and thoughtful. In the note mention house stuff like how to use the coffee maker and leave some staple groceries (milk, juice, cereal, etc), and indicate that they're welcome to use these. Leave the apartment sparkling clean and with fresh flowers. A fresh, wrapped bar of soap in the washroom, etc. All the little details. Leave enough keys that each person subletting can have one (so two keys for a couple). If you do this stuff- the little, personalized extras- it'll only cost you $20 or so, and it means that there's no WAY they'll mess up your place. I think this step is so key I'd even suggest asking your friend to come in and fluff the place for the second set of subletters, putting out your pre-written note personalized to the second group of people, more flowers, the current newspapers, etc.

My last subletters (Craigslist strangers) liked my note & map so much that they wrote me a long note thanking me for making them feel so welcome, and left a funny daily record of where they went (to all the places I suggested!) And before they left, they vacuumed, washed the linens, and left ME flowers and wine! I think the importance of the personal touch cannot be overstated- I could not believe it when I came home to a pristine apartment, garbage taken out and everything. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:10 PM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

2nd ing taking pics of everything before you leave, if there is anything wrong you'll have documentation.

When I rented my place out, I met with the people before hand to make sure I was comfortable with them, you say you won't be doing that, but it did give me piece of mind. And it did work out well.

Do take anything of value out or lock it up and do be polite/professional to deal with (don't give them incentive to not care about your place).

Do have some sort of security deposit/financial incentive for them to not mess up your place.

Lastly, make sure you have some contact info for them, probably their drivers lic/passport --- I'm selling my place right now and have throw away phone # and email, so make sure it goes beyond that.

Good luck! I had a good experience with mine, I hope you do too.
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:27 PM on January 1, 2009

Google their name. Trust me on this one!
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:36 PM on January 1, 2009

I've only been on the subletting time, but the four or five times I've done it (in NYC) I've usually had a security deposit around 1/3 or 1/4th of the subletting amount. ABSOLUTELY sign a sublease contract, stating the dates, the rent, the security deposit, and any other issues. Some people asked for a copy of my driver's license, which wasn't too out of the norm. Oh, and get references/know where they work/what they do.
posted by suedehead at 9:20 PM on January 1, 2009

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