Erica Buist | Contributor | 1,017 day ago

How To Sublet Your Flat Illegally (If You're Into That Sort Of Criminal Activity Which We Obviously Aren't)

The Debrief: Obviously you have no idea what we're talking about but if you DID then here's how you MIGHT go about subletting your room/flat. Hypothetically.

Sublet: the practice of a tenant letting out part or all of a property to another tenant. 

Illegal sublet: a sublet the landlord hasn’t agreed to.

Penalties for illegal subletting: they can (and probably will) evict you, if they find out. Subletting social housing, on the other hand, is a criminal offence, punishable by hefty fines and prison sentences of up to two years. WOO. 

Alright, but what if you're going away for a few months and your mate wants to stay in your room? Surely that's not - oh, it is. And definitely nobody else is doing it (everyone is doing it). It's just you (it's not you). You criminal (you are technically a criminal but y'know).

Google 'illegal sublet', and what comes up falls into two broad categories: penalties, and sob stories – landlords being the people for whom you’re supposed to be sobbing. It’s hard to feel too sorry for them considering they're often massive pricks. Paying rent is basically just paying someone else’s mortgage, and the idea of landlords getting uppity over exactly WHO pays their mortgage(s) seems petty. Almost nosey. But when you see stories of furniture ripped apart by streams of under-the-table tenants in flats warped into makeshift hostels by get-rich-quick opportunists, it’s no wonder illegal subletting makes landlords nervous. 

But what doesn’t flood the Google results is stories of people who want or need to move out early and their landlords won’t let them out of their contract. Maybe you lost your job, or have to move cities – can’t they just get someone in, given there’s a shortage of places to live in this town? 'Ha!', they say, 'OR we could do nothing, knowing you’re liable for the rent until your contract ends', or they might respond, 'OK, but only if YOU find a new tenant, by the way we’re raising to laughably more than this dump is worth – GOOD LUCK.'.  

The temptation to let someone else live in your flat and give you the rent at cost, which you then pay to the inflexible landlord is strong. Seems like a win-win-win: you get to leave without losing your money, they get somewhere to live, the landlord gets the rent.

Sadly, it’s illegal, so of course you won’t be doing it. Here are all the ways in which you won’t be doing it:

Advertising on Gumtree

Everyone I spoke to who has either advertised for or been an illegal tenant cites Gumtree as the playground for their nefarious activities – though spareroom.co.uk is a popular contender. Since these are, apparently, such great places to advertise illegal sublets, you’d better go and hang out elsewhere on the internet. May I suggest cutecats.com?

Using the term “short let”

Short lets can be incredibly hard to come by in London, bar eyewateringly pricey holiday lets. Celine and Laurent, a French couple who needed a short let in London for three months while they looked for work, said, “We looked everywhere for a short let and found incredibly expensive hovels. Celine actually cried after we saw a place in Harlesden for £1500 a month. It was dirty and the street seemed dangerous. We answered an ad in Crouch End and when we met the couple letting it they were very honest with us: they needed to move out, they had four months left on their contract and their landlord wouldn’t release them. We paid the four months rent in cash and they made a copy of the key for us. It was the perfect situation.”

Vetting potential tenants

The illegal tenant is the person with the least to lose from this arrangement: if they smashed the place up or started squatting, you’d be liable. Going for a drink, getting their number, and even adding them on Facebook are ways to try (as best you can) to get a feel for the sort of person you’d be trusting with your flat. Any kind of unease, even one you can’t place, is a sign you should pull out of the sublet you totally weren’t going to go ahead with anyway because THE LAW.

Visiting frequently

Frequent visits mean you can check on the flat, but also, the terms of your contract might state that you’re not allowed to leave it for more than a certain period of time without permission. John, who subletted to Celine and Laurent, said, 'The flat was in a high-rise building with CCTV and I was paranoid that they might check the footage to prove I’d left the flat ‘unattended’ for more than three weeks. I’m sure they wouldn’t have bothered, but just to be safe I went back every three weeks so I’d be on the camera. The visits were useful anyway, for picking up post.'

Staying under the radar

One of the few rights a tenant has in Britain is that the landlord has to give 24 hours’ notice before entering the property, which gives the illegal subletter plenty of time to hide any evidence. Cathy, who lets out a room in her rented house, shared some of the antics of hiding a tenant: “We live in a five-bed houseshare but legally we’re only allowed four tenants, so we sublet the fifth room to another girl. She's not on the landlord's radar and if/when he asks to come round, we remove all evidence that she lives there – stripping the bed, moving her clothes, taking down her photos, things like that. She pays the same amount of rent as everyone else, but deposits it into a joint bank account which we use for all house-related expenses. We've been doing it for two years and everyone is happy as they get to live in London, which they wouldn't be able to afford to do otherwise.”

Having a story ready

In case your new tenant happens to come face-to-face with the enemy, agree a cover story. It doesn’t have to be long, complicated or involve a racoon. Celine and Laurent went with “We’re friends of John’s visiting from Paris”, and they did have to use it once: 'The caretaker knocked to let John know there would be noise as he was fixing a radiator next door, and I just opened the door without thinking. He was very nice but asked where John was. I said, "He’s out getting beers." I told him I was visiting from Paris but he didn’t seem interested – maybe he didn’t care, but it also struck me that he might not want the hassle of knowing.'

Anyway, speaking of illegal things we’re totally not going to do, how would you guys go about downloading music from YouTube?

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Picture: Eylul Aslan

Tags: Housemates Head To Head, Housing Woes