A sublet apartment, also known as a subleased apartment, is an excellent alternative for people seeking a situation that's a little more flexible—or, in some cases, a lot more flexible—than the standard one- or two-year rental lease most property managers and owners insist upon. Fairly common in New York City, the sublet simply means that the original holder of the lease from the landlord offers the apartment—or, subleases the apartment--to a third party… which, in this case, is you.
Owners of condo apartments sometimes rent out their homes to tenants, both for the short- and the long-term, and these arrangements are sometimes referred to as sublets (mostly because of the flexibility involved, and often informal nature of the agreement), but because there is only one lease holder—you--they're legally more like standard rental apartments, with the condo owner acting as landlord.
The Legal vs. Illegal Sublet
With a sublet, the original leaseholder is still responsible for monthly rental payments to the landlord. There are many reasons why leaseholders of apartments in NY would want to sublease their homes, such as a temporary relocation for work, or for school, or if they're moving in with a partner but want to hang on to their "real" apartment, just in case…
In most instances such as these, the leaseholder's landlord would approve a sublet, as long as the rent continued to be paid on time, and so the arrangement would be a legal sublet. Aside from the obvious reasons, this is by far the more favorable option for everyone involved: the landlord, the leaseholder, and sublessor.
In NYC, however, the illegal—or, landlord unapproved--sublet is more common than you might think. Anytime the lessee doesn't have permission from the landlord to sublet the apartment, it is an illegal sublet. The only way for you to tell, is if you were to contact the property manager or owner directly and ask them. While some landlords may require you to be approved by them before you can sublet, not all landlords do so, even with a legal
The illegal sublet also often involves a rent stabilized, or rent controlled, apartment, that the lessee doesn't want to give up, but doesn't want to live in anymore. Often the lessee will rent the apartment to you for more than what they pay, and in essence they make a "profit" from you. The potential for heartbreak and extreme inconvenience is high for both the illegal leassor and subleassor in such cases: if caught, the lessee must surrender their lease, and the sublessee is thrown out on to the street with little or no notice.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Subletting
If you're certain that you're only going to need an apartment for a specific length of time, and that length of time is less than a year, then finding a landlord-approved, legal sublet can be a terrific housing option. Sublets in New York City can also be found furnished or semi-furnished, adding to their appeal for the temporary tenant.
Sublets are also good options for people who are just moving to NYC. aren't sure what neighborhood they wish to live, and want some time to get the "lay of the land." However, given the cost of moving and/or storage, this option works best for people with little furniture and belongings, beyond clothing and some personal items. It's also a good alternative for people moving to NYC without a job, but with some savings.
However, you should expect far fewer rights as a tenant of a sublet, especially, obviously, if it's an illegal sublet, but even it's a "handshake" sublet from a friend or an acquaintance. If something goes wrong in the apartment--with the plumbing, say… or the heat—an illegal sublessee may not be able to go downstairs and get help from the super, for fear of being "discovered." Also, to be evicted from an apartment for which you've signed a legal lease is difficult in New York City. To be evicted from an illegal sublet is much, much easier, especially if the apartment is rent stabilized or rent controlled.