Does a tenant have any legal recourse against a former subletter with no written sublease or landlord approval?

My girlfriend lived in one room of a 2 bedroom apartment for several months under a verbal agreement with the legal tenant. There was no sublet agreement with the landlord. She was recently forced out under bad terms (though she did nothing wrong) by the tenant signed on the lease. She was planning to send the keys to the leasing office of the building, but now the tenant is threatening to call the police and report that she stole the keys. Does the tenant actually have any legal recourse against my girlfriend? Would it be better to mail the keys to the tenant or the leasing office?

Asked on June 1, 2009 under Real Estate Law, Pennsylvania


M.H., Member, California Bar / M.H., Member, California Bar

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

The tenant may have civil recourse despite the lack of written agreement if the tenant and your girlfriend had a contract - that is an agreement between the both of them for services in which consideration was provided.  Consideration, a central element of contracts, means that both received a benefit under the terms of the mutual promises made (fee in exchange for living space).  The tenant would have a very difficult time, though, proving the terms of the agreement without anything in writing in that both your girlfriend and the tenant's testimony would constitute evidence of the terms.  Hence tenant's word versus your girlfriend's.

Tenant may not legally falsify criminal complaint against girlfriend, but if she fears tenant will lie, probably best to give to management as tenant could always deny receiving keys.  Send via certified mail, return receipt requested.  Girlfriend would also probably do well to put her version in writing to tenant if tenant is threatening legal or illegal action, also CMRR.

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