A tenant's guide to inventories
As a tenant, the importance of the inventory process cannot be underestimated. It could make the difference between getting your whole deposit back or only receiving part of it, and it can massively reduce the chances of disputes occurring between you and your landlord or the letting agent managing the property.
While most tenants are provided with an inventory when they move into a rental property, many remain unaware of its importance or how to use it to its full potential.
What is an inventory?
An inventory is a key part of the rental process that creates a before, during and after picture of the rental property. It is an in-depth report which details the contents of the property and every aspect of its condition.
If everything is detailed for all parties to see, the chances of disputes are much reduced. If the evidence isn't there, tenants could find themselves being challenged on damage they haven't caused or asked to pay for repairs that had nothing to do with them.
An inventory should be carried out at the start (check-in) and end of a tenancy (check-out), with landlords and tenants both clear on what has been signed and agreed.
The inventory, which is often carried out by an independent, third-party inventory clerk but may also be conducted by a landlord or letting agent, should be compiled, agreed upon and signed by the tenant.
It should include a comprehensive list of all the contents of a property and dated photos, so a fair comparison can be made between the condition of a property at the start and end of a tenancy.
An inventory is deemed more reliable if it has been conducted by a third party – so there is no bias involved – signed by the tenant and containing detailed photos. Without this, the adjudicator whose job it is to deal with any disputes is highly likely to reject a landlord's claim.
If an inventory has been compiled by the landlord or agent, supporting evidence will often be required to highlight that the tenant has seen the inventory and had the chance to agree or disagree with it and make any necessary comments.
The check-in inventory needs to be as detailed as possible, to ensure there are no discrepancies or issues at a later date. The condition of certain items can be open to interpretation, so detailed, descriptive records of all the contents will be needed. Landlords should also make clear which items are brand new and which aren't.
While, as a tenant, you are not obliged to attend the check-in inspection, it's a wise move to do so as it will be easier for you and your landlord to agree on the inventory that has been created. In many cases, you may also sign the inventory there and then, but make sure you have studied it closely beforehand.
Landlords are expected to carry out periodic inspections of their rental properties (as well as giving their tenants fair and advance warning of when these will take place) to check on their condition.
They, or the letting agent or inventory service acting on their behalf, will ensure the property is being maintained and treated properly. What's more, these mid-tenancy inspections should also seek to identify any possible issues the tenants might have – in turn reducing the likelihood of disputes at a later date.
While these mid-term reports don't need to be as comprehensive as the check-in or check-out inspections, they can be highly useful if a dispute occurs at a later juncture. Tenants should also receive in writing any required follow-up or actions that are needed as a result of the inspection.
It should also be noted that any correspondence that you have with your landlord or letting agent could prove useful at a later date, especially with regards to reporting repairs and making clear what has been agreed upon and what hasn't when it comes to thing like redecorating, pets and DIY.
Keeping copies of any correspondence between you and your landlord – and this can be in the form of emails, texts, letters and any other form of communication which records the words of both parties – is a pragmatic step to take.
At the end of a tenancy comes the check-out inspection, where the before and after condition of the property is compared and any disagreements or disputes (if it comes to this) are dealt with. Remember, the check-out inspection should be carried out as soon as possible after you've handed over the keys.
Once again, it's not compulsory for a tenant to attend the check-out inspection, but it is strongly encouraged. That way it will be easier for both parties to come to an agreement on the results. This is also the time where date stamped photographs or video recordings come in handy, allowing for a thorough before and after comparison. Photos should be high-quality, clear and preferably provided in electronic form.
At check-out, the landlord/agent or independent inventory clerk will attend the property and compile a check-out report, determining how much of your deposit should be returned.