Subleasing – A Growing Concern

May 30, 2019

When entering into a tenancy agreement, consumers have certain responsibilities that they must abide by. These responsibilities range from paying rent on time, thoroughly inspecting the property and noting any defects and generally abiding by all terms of the agreed to tenancy agreement. 

There are a host of other responsibilities to honour and a key responsibility has to do with sub- leasing. 

What is subleasing? 

Sub leasing is when a tenant whose name is on the lease rents a room, a portion of property, or all of the property to another. It can also be referred to as subletting. The subtenant must pay rent and comply with the lease terms but the principal tenant remains ultimately responsible for the lease. 

Generally, tenants can only sub-lease if the landlord has agreed to it in the tenancy agreement. This must be explicitly stated to ensure that it is clear to all parties of the agreement. However, the Council recently received a case where an unscrupulous tenant attempted to illegally sublease the flat, he was renting, cheating his landlord and the tenant he had acquired. 

The complaint was received from a tenant, Samuela, who with his partner were supposedly co-tenants at a flat for which they paid rent of $200 per month and a bond of $250. Samuela was subleased the flat by James who was the principal tenant. James had told Samuela that the rent for the flat was $450 per month which actually was only $250 per month. 

Samuela and his partner were paying $200 per month for the first five months with the assumption that the actual rent of the flat was $450 per month. They were under the impression that James was paying the balance of $250 per month, thereby meeting the full monthly rent payments. 

There were two flats of similar size on the property and after the fifth month, Samuela managed to see a rent receipt from the tenants in the first flat. The receipts showed that the actual rent was $250 per month and not $450. Further, the tenancy agreement specifically stated that the principal tenant was not allowed to sub-lease the property without the consent of the landlord or their agent in writing. The landlord had provided no such approval and as such Samuela was paying almost the full rent each month. 

Samuela was incredibly frustrated and after failing to get redress from James, he decided to visit the Council for assistance. The Council mediated between James and Samuela and James agreed to repay Samuela $575 in overpaid rent. This amount includes the deduction made from the bed Samuela had purchased from James. 

Consumer Council Advice 

It is an incredibly dishonest behaviour to sub lease a property when it is specifically prohibited in the tenancy agreement. Consumers must ensure to read their tenancy agreements and ensure that they do not sublease properties illegally.

With the high demand for affordable and proper housing, consumers can sometimes be duped into signing tenancy agreements that are actually subleasing agreements. Consumers should ensure that they ask whether subleasing is permitted by the landlord before signing any such agreements. They should also ask to see the tenancy agreement with landlord that states this. 

In the meantime, all residential tenants are encouraged to seek advice from the Consumer Council of Fiji on residential rental issues. Consumers can lodge complaints against landlords who fail to comply with the tenancy agreements. The Council has recorded 183 complaints dealing with landlord and tenants and this remains an ongoing issue for the Council. 

Consumers are advised to report any issues they face with landlords on the National Consumer Helpline toll-free number, 155.