What is an inventory?
An inventory (or should be), a detailed description of the property contents and its condition at the time it is let to a tenant.
Its purpose is to help prove the landlords’ case should they wish to make any deductions from the deposit when the tenancy ends.
It should, therefore, state not only that an item is present in the property, but also its physical condition, in particular, if there are any scratches or if it is damaged in any other way. Perhaps a better name for it is a statement of condition.
It should cover not only items in the property but also the condition of the property itself. Such as walls, windows, doors, light fittings etc. After all, if the walls are marked or the window panes are cracked when the tenant departs, the landlord will want to claim against the deposit so these matters can be rectified.
If they are not covered by the inventory it is going to be difficult for the landlord to refute any claims by the tenant (for example) that damage had already been done when he moved in at the start of the tenancy and so he is not liable for the cost of replacement or repair.
As the whole point of the inventory is to prove the condition of the property at the start in the event of a dispute at the end, efforts should be made to make it as comprehensive as possible. After all, you have no idea what items are going to be in issue later.
Photographs with the inventory
It may also be helpful to have photographs, especially of particularly valuable items (although it is arguable that valuable items should not be left in a rented property at all, except perhaps a very high value one).
However, you need to be careful with photographs. Many arbitrators say that they are frequently useless. If you use photographs, they should:
- Be sharp and clear i.e. not out of focus
- Have something to show the scale (i.e. a ruler next to a scratch on furniture)
- Be taken with a camera which date stamps the pictures
- Be signed by both parties and dated, to prove that they relate to the property concerned. After all a picture just of a table could be anywhere.
It is very easy nowadays to forge photographs, so you need to be able to prove that these photos are genuine pictures which show the condition of the property and its contents at the time of check-in.
Note that there are now services which allow you to create a detailed inventory using your mobile phone to record both photographs and a verbal description of the property, which can save a lot of time.
Sometimes a video is also taken, particularly of high-value properties, in which case the same principles discussed above will apply.
Using a professional inventory clerk
It is becoming increasingly common, particularly where the landlord is managing his own properties, to use a professional inventory clerk. There are two advantages to this.
- The first is that inventory clerks do this work all the time, and therefore they probably do a much better job than a landlord who might only do it once a year.
- The second is that the evidence of an inventory clerk in a tenancy deposit arbitration is more likely to be accepted by the adjudicator, as they will be considered more independent than the landlord. Particularly as in most cases, the tenant will have paid part of the fee.
It is therefore often a good idea for a landlord to use an inventory clerk for this work (you can often find one via the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks).
Inventory fee charges
Although there will be a charge, this is often shared with the tenant as it is also for the tenants benefit to have an accurate record plus, as mentioned above, it means that the report is more likely to be accepted as independent.
Provided the landlord and tenant share the costs evenly, this is generally considered fair under the Unfair Terms Regulations. For example tenancy agreements often provide for the check-in to be paid for by the landlord and the checkout to be paid for by the tenant, or vice versa. Although note that it is possible that this will be disallowed if the government’s plan to ban fees to tenants comes into force.
Inventories and your tenancy agreement
If you use an inventory it is good practice to refer to it in the tenancy agreement. The tenancy agreement can also usefully state give a deadline for reporting errors in the inventory – which should be by reference to the date when the inventory was provided to the tenant.
There should be two original copies of the inventory, one for the tenant and one for the landlord, and they should be kept carefully with the tenancy agreement.