Landlords who let property should be aware that they need to prepare a thorough residential inventory before they handover their property. Not to do so given the recent changes to the Tenancy Deposit Scheme would be nothing less than reckless.
Images and residential inventories
The advent of quality cameras on phones means that many landlords have responded to the tedious task of preparing a residential inventory by taking a ‘shed load’ of photos of the condition of their property and pretty much nothing else. The Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC) recently warned landlords and their letting agents of the shortcuts of trying to replace a carefully worded inventory solely with photographic or video evidence of the condition of their buy-to-let property.
The Association advices that photographs and videos can provide helpful additions to a fully drafted inventory in the event of a dispute between landlord and tenant. However, all too often the images are no more than a thumbnail size. Any adjudicator should a dispute a rise is left floundering when trying to recognize any alleged damage to the buy-to-let property.
The issue here is the quality of the images. Therefore if you going to take pictures make sure you have the setting on the highest quality first. Other issues relating to the usefulness of photographic evidence is it’s ability to pick up certain types of damage such as carpet burns, serious damage to worktops and interior décor etc, but not for showing really fine detail such as small chips and scratches in sinks and baths, knife marks on worktops, and scratches to halogen hobs.
An experts view
Tom Derrett is a former tenancy deposit adjudicator and now principal of Deposit Claim.
He advises Property Hawk users on how to use video and photographic images when making a residential inventory:
1. A good video inventory will always include a comprehensive written document. You should think of it as a written inventory with supporting video evidence, not as a video on its own. The written document is necessary not least so that the tenant has some way of recording their thoughts, so a good document will have a space for tenants comments and signatures. The written inventory should always correspond as closely as possible to the video.
2. The inventory and video should always be dated. If using an independent provider it is quite acceptable for them to state the date on the beginning of the film; if shooting the video yourself, better to cover your back and film the cover of that day’s paper as you state the date, just to be on the safe side.
3. Work out a plan for recording your video. The whole idea of using video is to ensure that you get a close up image of everything in the property. If you just walk in and wave the camera around you may miss something. Make a plan before you start and write it on a card you can hold in your free hand. Take your time and make sure your record every plug socket and radiator valve cap. If a job is worth doing...
1. All the comments on written inventories above apply equally if you are using photographs. Do not rely on photographs alone.
2. It is also important to ensure that photographs are dated, especially if compiling the inventory yourself. Make sure your camera is set to the correct date so that it writes the date on the meta data attached to the file, but don’t rely on this as one deposit protection schemes has an unfortunate habit of sending their adjudicators prints of photographs, rather than the original files. If your camera has a date stamp function, switch it on by all means, but tenants often point out that these can easily be faked. If you are worried, put today’s paper in every wide shot and include one close up of the paper showing the date. Unfortunately, one of the major drawbacks of photographs is that they can easily be tampered with, where as you need a Disney sized post production facility to fake video.
3. Take two. You should get into the habit of taking two photographs for everything you want to capture; one wide shot, and one close up. Close up images out of context are easy to dispute. To prevent this, you should get into the habit of shooting wide shots of the room that include those areas you will be photographing in more detail. In a normal room you might only need a few establishing shots to show everything in context. When shooting close ups, always put something in the frame to show scale, like a coin, pen or ruler.
Tom makes the excellent point that too often landlords concentrate on cataloguing the damage rather than the parts of their buy-to-let properties that are in good condition. If you check out an inventory company’s work and all they do is photograph the damage, don’t use them. The whole purpose of the inventory is to show the property in its undamaged condition. Although you need to log any imperfections, you won’t be claiming on the deposit for pre-existing damage so there is no point spending all your time documenting it.
Ultimately a landlord should always remember that this is a grey area and how well a inventory performs with or without images will depend to some degree on the individual adjudicator and their interpretation of the general guidance. The starting point is always that the deposit is the tenants’ to lose. However, the process of adjudication is not a judicial process and therefore does not have to stand up to the full rigors of the law. In essence if you want to be successful it’s all about painting a picture to the adjudicator. If the ‘picture’ is one of a competent landlord, with a well presented property and a carefully put together and well evidenced inventory versus a dirty, shambolic tenant.
Who would you believe?
Tom Derretts ebook, How To Win Deposit Disputes is available from Your Law Store for just £12.
For more advice on Tenancy Deposits: