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One of my players rolled a Rogue Thief. At level three they get the following feature:

Fast Hands: You can use the extra action granted by your Cunning Action to make Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) checks, use your thieves’ tools to disarm a trap or open a lock, or use an object in the environment.

The player asked mid-fight to use a Sleight of Hand check to disarm a foe. Since this isn't clear in the PHB, the discussion slowed down the fight considerably. To end this discussion I ruled a SoH check against the enemy's Strength (athletics) check.

I still find it hard to see how a SoH check could work to disarm mid-combat, since there's no way you'd be able to "sneakily" take someone's weapon out of their hands while fighting.

There is an optional "Disarm" rule as listed in the DMG, which uses a weapon attack against an adversary's Dex(Acrobatics) or Str(athletics) check to determine whether or not a disarm action succeeds.

Any insights? How have/would you guys rule this?

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Objective Facts

You already found the writer-provided option for disarming - the Disarm option in the DMG. It is an Attack, not Use An Object; they're two different kinds of actions.

The uses of Fast Hands is fairly well laid out - locks, traps, and Use an Object.

The types of things Sleight of Hand is meant to apply to is fairly well defined:

Whenever you attempt an act of legerdemain or manual trickery, such as planting something on someone else or concealing an object on your person, make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. The DM might also call for a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check to determine whether you can lift a coin purse off another person or slip something out of another person's pocket.

Taking a weapon out of somebody's hands, a weapon they're actively using, is not legerdemain or trickery of any kind. The examples clearly deal with small objects - coin purses or something that fits in a pocket.

Subjective Opinion

I would not have ruled the way you did - partially because I was already aware of the DMG having a rule for generic Disarming (which I don't use), but moreso due to the Battlemaster Fighter having a Disarming Attack. Granting the Rogue easy (via a bonus action) access to something that a Fighter has to consume resources (Superiority Dice) to do is too much.

I would certainly allow the Rogue to use Fast Hands to relieve a character of a weapon they were not actively using by cutting straps and the like. Some may consider it a bit of a stretch, and I probably wouldn't let the Rogue actually take possession of it (just cause it to fall at the target's feet), but I think it's reasonably fair for a subclass-specific bonus-action ability to force another character to waste an action to pick the item back up (or make the choice to abandon it).

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Bonus Action is irrelevant

You can't use Sleight of Hand skill to disarm an opponent at all, since Sleight of Hand is about picking an item unnoticed (that's why you roll it versus Perception), not about forcefully taking an item from someone's hands.

The question is very interesting thought, because normally players don't announce skills. In 5e players aren't supposed to say "I use Persuasion skill", "I use Stealth skill" or "I use Sleight of Hand skill". They say "I try to convince the guard to let us pass", "I try to move silently", "I try to pickpocket the key", and it is the DM who says e.g. "make a Sleight of Hand check". So if a player says "I try to take away his weapon", DM asks him for an attack roll, as the DMG supposes:

The attacker makes an attack roll contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) check or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check.

Quite the contrary, The Fast Hands feature explicitly says "You can use the extra action to make Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) checks". This assumes the player must know the check before he/she is asked for one. A normal practice would be creating a list of allowed actions with the DM beforehand.

There could be a precedent though, when a player said "I try to disarm him" in combat, and the DM asked for a Sleight of Hand check. In this case, the player naturally feels they is eligible for using the Fast Hands feature; should it work or not is up to the DM.

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I would say that there is a rule that defines how this is supposed to be handled, as you have already noted in the DMG. I think that Sleight of Hand is intended for tricky, sneaky kinds of operation, which taking away a weapon that someone is holding onto while fighting with it definitely doesn't count as.

The RAW seem pretty clear to me:

Whenever you attempt an act of legerdemain or manual trickery, such as planting something on someone else or concealing an object on your person, make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. The DM might also call for a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check to determine whether you can lift a coin purse off another person or slip something out of another person's pocket. (PHB 177)

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