The importance of watertight inventories

Inventory list

Whether you’re a tenant or a landlord, if your property’s inventory is accurate, it will protect both you and your money.

Inventories, deposit deductions and damages are often sore subjects with landlords and tenants alike because so many have had unpleasant first-hand experiences of a contentious deposit dispute.

Long gone are the days of landlords returning deposits minus money for dilapidations based purely on their recollection of a property's prior condition. And no longer can tenants refuse to pay their final months’ rent to ensure they suffer these sometimes arbitrary and inevitable losses.

Since the introduction of the deposit protection scheme six years ago, during which time the rules for both sides were made clear, hard evidence alone counts when it comes to settling disputes.

So it begs the question – why, six years on, are disputes still frequently arising? And why, when large sums are often involved, are landlords and tenants not doing more to ensure this final stage of a tenancy runs smoothly?

One reason often lies in the quality of the inventory – an inaccurate or out of date one is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Another reason concerns the dreaded grey area that is ‘fair wear and tear’ – a fair amount of the stuff is to be expected, and tenants cannot be penalised for causing wear and tear to the property or its contents.

When damage does occur, it’s often necessary for an item to be replaced. However, the amount paid for the replacement isn't necessarily the amount that should be requested of a tenant from his or her bond.

‘Betterment’, as the term suggests, describes a situation in which a person ends up in a better position (financially or materially) than they were originally. If fair wear and tear is considered, then the entire cost of replacing an item may not lie entirely with the tenant. For example, a mattress being replaced in year three, when its life expectancy was five years, should only incur a charge of two-fifths of the cost of replacement, seeing as the landlord has already had three years’ worth of its use.

Here are our tips for taking the dispute out of deposits:


Tenants and landlords alike should ensure they document the condition of the property at the start and end of a tenancy. If a third party ultimately has to determine liability on a point of contention, they won't have visited the property, so clear photographs are key. Most people own a smartphone these days, making this simple procedure even easier. Ensure photos show the whole room and take close-up shots of any items you feel need particular attention. Use a ruler or similar object to give a sense of scale to close-ups of stains or marks. If a landlord has taken good photos to advertise their property, then they’ll already have the information needed to defend themselves should something go wrong.

Signed inventory

It’s still the easiest form of documentation. An inventory runs through a property room-by-room, detailing the fixtures and fittings in addition to the furnishings. Details of any existing defects, such as marks on walls or chips in woodwork, should be noted. As tedious as this is, the more detailed your inventory the more protection it offers both parties. As a landlord, you should be providing your tenant with such a document and allowing them to make amendments if anything is inaccurate. This is then signed by both parties and kept as a referral document at the end of the tenancy. If it isn't your cup of tea, letting agents like us at CPS Homes and private inventory clerks can do this for you.

Make sure an inventory has been issued as soon as access to the property is given. The sooner it’s checked and signed, the less margin for error or dispute later. If anything in the property alters mid-tenancy, make sure the inventory is updated and any amendments agreed.


Fancy yourself as a videographer? Feel free to test your skills with a video inventory, but we’d always recommend it’s backed up in writing. In the event of a dispute, be prepared to reference the 'time track', as the independent adjudicator won’t watch the entire film looking out for the damaged bed leg in the final scene.

Did you know?

- 70% of deposits have been returned to tenants in full since the deposit protection scheme 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.

31 July 2013


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