By Bruce Cathcart

You have located what looks like a great house in a great neighborhood for rent. Hopefully you are working with your trusted real estate agent, but even if you are going it alone there are some important questions that you need to ask before you sign on the dotted line! Here are some suggestions from a conversation that I recently had with my in-house property manager based upon her many years of experience in renting and managing homes here in our desert community.

Nobody likes surprises that end up costing them more money than they expected to pay! So after you are told how much the rent is the main question to ask is “What is included in the rent?” Start with the utilities. Who pays the electric, the water, the gas? Usually the tenant pays for all of the utilities but since most of the major water companies/districts here in the Coachella Valley will not allow the water bill to be in the tenant’s name, some landlords are starting to include the water bill in the rent. Sometimes landlords charge a flat fee for water and sometimes they will pay up to a certain amount with the tenant paying for the overage. If the tenant is to be responsible for the water bill some companies will send them a courtesy copy of the monthly bill, but not all do. In this case the landlord will present you with the water bill usually at the time you pay the rent. This can be confusing so make sure you have a clear understanding about how your water bill will be handled.

Here in the Coachella Valley many of the houses have their trash pick-up bill included in their property taxes and most landlords include this in the rent. In those areas where this is not the case it is usually the responsibility of the tenant to pay for the trash pick-up. This runs about $20.00 to $30.00 a month, so make sure and find out if the trash service is included in your rent or not.


If there is a pool/spa on the property is the pool service included in the rent? How about the yard maintenance, who is going to pay for the gardener?

Here are a few questions tenants seldom ask, but should. If the property has gas is it natural gas or propane gas? Propane gas can be more expensive. Is the property on public sewer or a septic system? Both systems are fine and usually included in the rent, but there are certain restrictions of what you can and cannot put into septic tank and you should treat the tank monthly with “chew doo” to keep it operating properly. Are pets allowed? Pet owners always ask this question, but what if you don’t currently have a pet but may want to get one in the future? The time to ask about the landlord’s pet policy is BEFORE you rent the house, not after a stray dog shows up at your door and bonds with your children. What is the landlord’s policy on home improvements? If you see things that you would like to do to improve the home and have the skill set required to make quality improvements, in most cases your labor can be traded for rent. But make sure you find out the landlord’s position on this before you remodel the bathroom.

Most rents are due on the first of the month, but when are they considered late? Does the rent have to be post marked by the 5th or in the landlord’s hands by the 5th? How much is the late fee? No one really plans on being late with their rent so they are surprised when they are assessed a late fee of $50.00 or more for being “just one day late”.

Renting a home is a huge commitment so do not be afraid to ask these and any other questions you can think of before signing your rental agreement. You will be glad you did!

This week’s real estate tip: If you are looking to rent a home in a gated community with a Home Owner’s Association make sure you get a copy of the HOA’s CC&R’s (Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions) and their rules and regulations to review before you sign your agreement. Finding out you can’t park the company truck in your own driveway AFTER you rent a home is never welcome news!

Bruce Cathcart is the Broker/Co-Owner of La Quinta Palms Realty, “Your Friendly Professionals” and can be reached by email at or visit his website at