The need for a detailed inventory has always been high on the list of priorities when renting a property, but since deposit protection was introduced in April 2007 it's never been higher.
Anybody who's had experience of letting a property will tell you that one of the most common points of contention comes when it's time for the tenant to move out. Often a landlord will conduct a check-out inspection and arrive at the opinion that the tenant has in some way damaged, misused or neglected the property, whereas the tenant will say they've left it in a better condition than it was when they moved in. And unless either party has got evidence to back up their claim, it's always going to be a case of one person's word against the other's.
So it begs the question - why don't landlords and tenants do more to ensure there's as little debate as possible about a property's condition? An experienced tenant, who's possibly been charged for things they believe they shouldn't have been in the past, will often take photos of the property shortly after moving in - a measure that's become more and more popular since the introduction of smart phones and the relative ease of taking and storing photos. It's a commendable idea and one that should be encouraged, in our opinion. Anything that leaves little to no room for uncertainty at the end of a tenancy is a good thing in our eyes. So it mystifies us when we hear of landlords that haven't bothered to document the entire condition of the property upon move-in.
It's an obvious point to make but when the tenant hands over their deposit at the start of the tenancy, it remains their money. And if a landlord wishes to deduct from it, the onus is very much on them to prove why. Under deposit protection legislation, tenants now have the ability to raise a dispute with the relevant deposit scheme and voice their disagreement with which items they're being charged for and, if necessary, the cost of the charges. If an agreement still can't be reached after the initial dispute, the scheme will then investigate the case and ultimately make a decision on how much each party is to receive after requesting evidence from both sides...evidence that may not exist if you haven't done things correctly! So the days of it being solely the landlord's decision on how much of the deposit they wish to return are long gone.
So what steps can a landlord take to protect themselves? Well photos are a good starting point - preferably digitally-dated and taken as close to the tenancy start date as possible. But they'll only go some way in aiding you state your case, so it's imperative that they're backed up with an inventory signed by both landlord and tenant. A signature goes a long way and you can go into far more detail in a written document than a photo would ever show. Everything from the colours of the walls and the type of flooring to the quality of the doors and the finish on the woodwork should be detailed. And that's without listing appliances, furniture, ornaments, mirrors...the list goes on. In short, leave no stone unturned!
- Did you know? 70% of deposits have been returned to tenants in full since deposit protection was introduced.
- Nearly one in five (17%) of tenants who have had some or all of their deposit withheld feel it has been done so unjustifiably.
- When claiming for deductions, 38% of landlords cite cleaning as the reason, whilst damages make up 23% of claims.