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Photo inventories – should you be using them?

Posted on 2016-11-17

When a landlord lets their property they’re putting their investment in the hands of tenants. During this time, tenants are responsible for the condition and upkeep of the property.

At the point when the tenant decides to move on, the landlord will be expecting to receive their property back in the same condition as it was handed over at the beginning of the tenancy.

However, this isn’t always the case. It’s for this reason that landlords take deposits and carry out inventories; to give peace of mind and act as a financial buffer in the event the property needs work between tenancies.

An inventory could prove an invaluable document at the end of a tenancy, but it seems not all landlords are using them to their full potential...

Alarming proportion of tenants not signing inventories

A recent study by money.co.uk has revealed that some 79% of 1,000 student tenants didn’t sign a photo inventory when they moved in to their rental property.

An inventory – which is ideally signed by both the tenant and the landlord – is a document which comprehensively details the condition and contents of the property at the beginning of the tenancy.

In the event of a dispute or need for deposit deduction at the end of a tenancy, an inventory can help to prove something one way or the other, helping landlords to successfully claim deductions or – on the other hand – helping tenants to successfully challenge suggested deductions.

Inventories which aren't signed by either party don’t hold as much weight with the tenancy deposit protection schemes because it can't be categorically proved that both parties agreed on something at the commencement of the tenancy.

Interestingly, of the student tenants surveyed by money.co.uk, 53% said they thought getting their full deposit back would have been easier if they’d signed an inventory at the start of the tenancy. The study suggests that four in ten student tenants have part of their deposit kept by their landlord – two in three of whom feel it was retained unfairly.

While these figures are for student tenants, it's highly likely that a proportion of regular tenancies are encountering very similar issues.

Gardens, Cleaning and property damage are still big problems

A lack of inventories – or ones that have been created properly – could contribute towards a number of the deposit disputes that occur every year.

Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) show that in the year to March 2016, 28,100 deposit disputes were resolved by the three deposit protection schemes: mydeposits, the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) and the Deposit Protection Service.

According to the DCLG, just 0.82% of deposits are officially disputed.

The HomeLet landlord survey reports the state of the garden as the primary reason that landlords withheld tenant deposits, being the main reason in 49% of cases. This is followed by damage to fixtures and fittings (15%) and cleaning (13%). To find out more you can read the HomeLet landlord survey here.

It's clear from these figures that a signed inventory could help to reduce the chances of a deposit dispute taking place.

The benefits of a signed photo inventory

So obviously an inventory can be extremely important for both landlords and tenants at the end of a tenancy, but what are the advantages of using photos as part of an inventory?

Well, as the old saying goes, a picture can tell a thousand words and in some cases could provide the additional detail needed to demonstrate some damage or something that has gone missing.

There are, however, some things you need to consider if using photos to bolster an inventory.

Firstly, photos which include dates automatically generated by a camera may not be enough. These dates could be manipulated, so it's wise to make sure any photos you plan on using are physically signed and dated by you and the tenant.

An inventory which includes photos also needs to be relevant and precise – hundreds of unordered photos are likely to irritate the adjudicator if a deduction claim goes to the dispute stage.

What's more, photos and video should be considered as supplementary evidence. A properly compiled inventory which includes detailed written descriptions remains essential and some quality, relevant photos can really add to that.

It's always vital to remember that, in the eyes of the deposit protection schemes, the deposit belongs to the tenant. Therefore, in the event you claim for deductions and it’s challenged by the tenant, if your case isn’t strong enough, the adjudicator will reject it.

An inventory’s an essential tool when building your case and making sure that documents are signed and dated by tenants is crucial part of this process.

Property managed by a letting agent?

If your property is managed by a letting agent, it could be a good idea to check with them to determine whether they currently produce photo inventories for any other of their landlord clients, and if so, to determine the associated benefits of them. If your letting agent currently doesn’t produce photo inventories you may want to approach the subject with them and explore the possibility and feasibility of using photo’s to support inventories.

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