New Beginnings - Old Apartment?

First things first, welcome to the Parks Law Offices blog. My name is Danny Garcia, and I’m excited to introduce you to both this blog and myself.

As the newest associate at Parks Law, I’m excited to hit the ground running. But while I’m looking forward to a fresh start in a new town, I’ve got some old roots to dig up before I can get fully settled. Moving furniture, forwarding my mail, finishing old casework—the list goes on.

But the most worrisome item for me?—wrapping up the obligations under my old Madison lease agreement.

Like many Wisconsinites who relocate for work, my move doesn’t neatly coincide with the end of my lease term—in this case, mid-August. And since I’m not exactly keen on paying rent for a place in which I’m no longer living, I need to find a way to escape that responsibility.

The situation leaves me with two options. I can either (1) sublet my apartment; or (2) terminate my lease agreement.

Most people would say that subletting is the less frightening option. Just find someone to move into your place and pay the rent. Simple, right?

Unfortunately, subletting can lead to a great many complications. To begin, Wisconsin law stipulates that tenants wishing to sublet their apartment must first get the consent of their landlord, meaning the landlord must approve both the sublet agreement and the potential subletter (Wis. Stat. § 704.09(1))—usually in written form. And even if the landlord, tenant, and subletter can reach such an arrangement, the old tenant isn’t completely off the hook. Since, under a sublet agreement, the old lease still exists, the old tenant is still fully liable for any late rent, disagreements, or damage caused by the subletter (Wis. Stat. § 704.09(1)). So if your subletter decides to put a hole in the wall, guess who the landlord can come after for repair costs—you!

Now, this doesn’t mean that subletting is always a bad choice. In fact, one large benefit of subletting is that an old tenant can potentially return to the apartment after the sublease period—making subletting a perfect option for students, summer vacationers, or others who need temporary time away from their home.

For everyone else, though, lease termination should be viewed as the safer, more permanent option for ending a landlord/tenant relationship. And while termination may sound daunting or intimidating, the process is actually quite simple.

First, a tenant should write a formal letter to their landlord, indicating their plans to terminate their lease agreement by a particular date—usually the date upon which they plan to be fully removed from the apartment. Then, the landlord is obligated to expend reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant (Wis. Stat. § 704.29(1)). That’s all there is to it.

Granted, the old tenant is still liable for rent payments until the landlord can find a new tenant. In addition, a number of considerations can arise regarding a tenant’s security deposit. But, for the most part, once the landlord signs a lease with a new tenant, the old tenant is free of any prior obligations to the old landlord, and in that respect lease termination is vastly superior to subletting.

Of course, every situation is unique, and whether a tenant opts to sublet or terminate their lease is completely discretionary. What’s really important is that both the landlord and tenant are familiar with the laws surrounding the end of the lease agreement, so everyone can work together to ensure a smoother transition and a brighter future.

Danny Garcia is an associate at Parks Law Offices. His practice emphasizes Landlord/Tenant, Employment, and Litigation. También habla español.

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