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Picture perfect

Property inventories need to be picture perfect, says Pat Barber, AIIC.

The Negotiator
broken freezer image

A broken freezer – tenant’s fault? Oh yes!

Some lettings agents have a perception that taking and checking inventories can be time-consuming and laborious, resulting in some landlords and management companies opting for the use of technology in inventories, to save time and money.

Technology-led inventories claim to help landlords and management companies to complete inventories in minutes, with the ability to add large quantities of photographs which can provide  evidence in tenancy dispute claims. In reality, whilst some systems are considerably better than others, most technology, including digital photography, does not allow for the inclusion of sufficient detail to provide indisputable evidence of the original condition at the start of a tenancy.

For this reason, in many tenancy dispute cases the adjudicators are likely to reject some technology-based inventories, as they cannot deliver the level of detail required which means that the landlord can lose hundreds of pounds in lost cases.

Many landlords and agents are using digital evidence to replace essential written descriptions in inventories, at check-in and check-out, leaving them exposed to potentially costly disputes over damage and other issues. The law clearly states that the deposit remains the tenant’s money and that they are entitled to get it back at the end of their stay, provided they have met the terms of the tenancy agreement, so the onus lies with the agent or landlord to provide proof of any proposed deductions.

Without an accurate and properly detailed inventory, a landlord has no evidence to prove that the property has been damaged in any way during the tenancy and therefore will find it almost impossible to withhold any deposit money from the tenants.

A glossy inventory that relies heavily on photographs will be of little use in a dispute. In fact, there is no point in producing a picture book for an inventory, with very little proper description and hundreds of photographs – these just do not provide enough detail. Photography and video are great for large areas of damage such as carpet burns, serious damage to worktops and interior decor, but they are not so good for showing really fine detail – the problems that occur most frequently on check-out; small chips and scratches in sinks and baths, knife marks on worktops, scratches to halogen hobs. All of which, will cause financial loss to the landlord if negligence can’t be proved.

photography imagesIn a recent dispute, a landlord supplied his tenant with a photographic style inventory at check in. Since none of these were dated and no other written evidence was produced, the tenant won his case and the landlord had to fund some expensive replacements. A photographic inventory cannot possibly cover every inch of a property and its contents in the way that written descriptions can. Inventory reports should contain a full description of a property and its contents, with detail on every bit of damage and its exact location at the start of a tenancy. This can be supported with  photographs and video – but these need to be of a high quality, so that any damage can be seen clearly. As an inventory is a binding legal document that provides a complete record of the condition and contents of a property, it is only effective if it is accurate.

The good news is that some agents and landlords are producing some excellent inventories with the right balance of detail, supported by photography and video. But often, the photographs  submitted in inventories are little larger than thumbnails and hence make it extremely difficult to see detail. To back up a damage issue, along with a detailed description, any photographs need to be of a reasonable size, so that the damage can be clearly seen.

Tips on photography
  • Ideally, ‘before and after’ photos should be taken with a clear narrative as to what the photo is showing, eg: colours, item description, marks on surfaces.
  • Photographs should include something to show scale within the photo and they should clearly show the condition of the property at any given time.
  • Even if the photographs are just to be incorporated in the inventory for reference, they need to be a decent size.
  • Photographs should be dated – check the camera is set to automatically to put the date on the picture. Alternatively, the date should be embedded in the inventory document either on the relevant pages or as an addendum page.
  • If photographs are going to be printed out, the printer used needs to be good quality. Too often cheap printers distort the colour. Even good printers give false colours when cartridges start to run out.
June 7, 2012

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