Landlord Photo Inventory Tips

photographer

I’ve already written a few articles that cover the what, when, and how’s of landlord inventories, but today I want to focus on one particular aspect of an inventory, and that’s the photo taking aspect.

Most “decent” landlords take photo evidence to supplement their inventory form because obviously, visual proof strengthens the case and gives a clearer idea of what kind of damage was caused, if there is any, of course. In my opinion, taking photographs is the most vital stage of the inventory, so it’s worth doing properly.

Thanks to a regular reader of this blog, Jools, I was informed of an interesting case where a well publicised industry magazine, Landlord & Buy-to-let Magazine, published an allegedly unreliable article on “Photo Inventory tips” An avid reader of the magazine followed the tips to the tee, and was devastated by how the tips proved to be useless when it mattered.

Photo Inventory Tips published by the ‘Landlord & Buy-to-let Magazine’

  • Ideally, ‘before and after’ photos should be taken with a clear narrative as to what the photo is showing e.g. 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 put the date on the picture or should be embedded into the dated inventory document either on the relevant pages or as an addendum page
  • If the 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 to run out

    Now, below is a letter which was later published in a following edition of the magazine:

    Dated Inventory photos
    I write as a warning to others, following the article in the October 2011 issue of Landlord & Buy-to-let magazine, about using good quality inventory photos with dates.

    I had done exactly as suggested in the article and, following a dispute for damages, the Dispute Service adjudicator rejected my photos with dates imprinted by the camera, commenting that such dates are not proof, as they could have been added at anytime as the camera date is user settable.

    Naturally, I was devastated. With over £7000 worth of damage (replacement value) following – at best – carelessness, and a flood leaving me with mouldy carpet and water damaaged furniture – presumable from a overflowed bath – I was allocated only £300 or so. The arbitrator’s decision is final, so I am well out of pocket.

    The current tenancy also shows dated photos, but this time there is a newspaper front page clearly showing the date in each photo.

    I am rather hoping this cannot be dismissed, but as yet it has not had to be tested.

    I advise other landlords to act as I did latterly.

    Best regards,
    Paul Simmons

    Ouch! You gotta’ feel sorry for Paul, especially since he followed the guidance of a well published Landlord magazine. Which reminds me, I’d like to declare that anything I’ve said on this website is NOT to be taken seriously. Judge situations for yourself, and make your own bloody mind up on what’s best :)

    In all fairness, I actually do think the majority of the tips provided by the magazine were good. And to be honest, it’s difficult to say if ALL adjudicators would have made the same comment. However, the adjudicator did have a valid point, the date setting on the camera can be EASILY manipulated, so this case should set a new precedence for how we should take photographs for our future inventories, or at least what we shouldn’t be doing.

    Tips on how to authenticate inventory photographs

    • Paul made it clear that he’s still not sure how much more reliable including a dated newspaper would be because it’s yet to be trailed and tested, but I do agree, it certainly does strengthen the inventory.
    • Take photos or even compile a video recording, including the tenant’s presence (if the tenant is prepared to do that). I’m not sure how a tenant would get out of that. I don’t see why a tenant wouldn’t be prepared to do that, because an inventory is there to equally protect both landlord and tenant.
    • The following seems to be the most popular tip; print off the photographs, and ensure they’re signed and dated by both landlord and tenant on the day of check-in.
    • As well as fulfilling the above tip, print off an inventory form and add a statement saying that the tenant has authenticated that X amount of images were taken on the move-in day. The form should be signed by both parties.
    • Regardless of which method(s) is used, ensure both parties have copies of the complete inventory e.g. if photographs are used (signed and dated), both landlord and tenant should have copies
    • Any photographic / videoed inventory needs to be accompanied by a very comprehensive written inventory that can be matched (easily) with the video / photo evidence

    I don’t have a definitive answer on what an adjudicator would accept as solid evidence to prove damage has been caused (or not caused), but I’d like to think the above tips would be pretty indisputable.

    It’s also worth noting that if you use a letting agent or a third party company to compile your inventory, it might be worth thoroughly investigating how they do it, and whether they rely on date-stamped photos.

    If anyone has any further tips or experience on the issue of inventories, I would appreciate your thoughts. What would be even better is if an actual Dispute Service adjudicator could shed some light on the issue. Are you one, or do you know of one?

    Email from an adjudicator

    I just received this unbelievably resourceful and insightful email from an adjudicator explaining the process he goes through, and what he would ideally like to receive in the form of an inventory. He/she wants to remain anonymous, but I’d like to say a massive thanks.

    I am an adjudicator and have done over 100 landlord and tenant deposit adjudications. I also own quite a lot of residential property so certainly understand things from a landlord’s perspective.

    Adjudicators most of whom are legally qualified and self employed typically get paid £100 to do an adjudication and so do not expect an adjudicator to want to spend more than 2 or 3 hours adjudicating your dispute. Brevity, relevance and precision is what a landlord should try to achieve with his evidence.

    My heart sinks when I receive a video inventory. Some last an hour and one recent so called professional video had over 15 minutes on the tiny garden and exterior of the property. It is not for the adjudicator to formulate a landlord’s case and find the evidence so I often ignore or fast forward videos where the landlord does not refer to the precise place in the video where what is in dispute can be seen.

    Am not impressed with most photos I receive it is not so much that dates can be altered (though TDS believe photos are of little use) it is the quality of the photos that are terrible, it is often unclear what the photo is supposed to show and the enormous number of irrelevant photos that are sent. In one recent dispute I received 200 photos virtually all of which were not relevant to the dispute. It is not my job to work out which photos are relevant.

    Many landlords do not understand that the Landord has to prove his entitlement to the tenant deposit and must provide evidence. So often inventories count spoons but most disputes revolve round condition rather than numbers of spoons. If a landlord is claiming for repainting a room I want to know when it was last decorated, how much it cost to decorate and the condition on check in and check out. Photos of loads of walls are not much help. Professional photos that are integral to a check in/out report are useful but not a file of 300 photos. My check in reports on my properties are very brief, “bedroom 1, decorated date, unmarked wall, carpet 100% wool new date, burn mark size of a 10p piece by door” etc

    I am sure landlords and indeed their agents would be much more successful if they presented their case briefly saying

    • what the dispute was over
    • evidence of CONDITION at check in
    • evidence of CONDITION at check out
    • evidence of cost to repair/replace ( or hours spent if actually done by landlord)

    Whilst a photo can back up a point in a check in/out report it is no substitute for a good check in CONDITION report.

    As an adjudicator I have no interest in anything other than the dispute and I really do not want to see photos etc of matters that are not in dispute. If I may be permitted to rant further there is only one thing that annoys me more than lengthy videos and that is Landlords or normally their agents who send long strings of emails i.e. the same email repeated many times.

    The best landlord claims on the deposit have a simple summary spread sheet at the front – by way of example

    ClaimAmountCheck in refCheck out refInvoice
    Repaint bed 1£300Para 2.9Para 4.4xyz painters
    Damaged kitchen unit£200Para 4.2Para 5.7abc kitchens
    Gardening£150Para 5.7Para 8.2See Schedule A

    That way the adjudicator cannot possibly miss anything in dispute or indeed any of the evidence.

    In many cases the tenant states they never saw the check in/check out reports or they were not accurate so I always e mail the reports to the Tenant so have evidence of when sent etc. In the above case the Landlord did the gardening so the schedule might read:

    Schedule A Gardening claim £150
    The tenant’s gardening obligation can be seen as clause 5.6 of the Tenancy Agreement. At the commencement of the tenancy the garden was in excellent condition as evidenced by para 5.6 of the check in report which says “hedge cut, grass cut, patio weed free” At check out the grass appeared not to have been cut for over a month, the hedge had not been cut since the start of the tenancy, the patio was covered in weeds. Cigarette ends and broken bicycle parts were left over the garden. The check out report para 8.2 augmented by dated photographs shows the condition of the garden at check out was substantially worse than at check in. The landlord undertook the gardening work himself.

    ClaimLabourCost
    Cut grass2 hours at £25 ph including landlords lawnmower/fuel£50
    Cut hedge2 hours at £15 ph£30
    Spray weedkiller on patio1 hour at £15ph£15 can of weedkiller from B&Q (see receipt)
    Removal of rubbishRemoval of rubbish to tip 30 miles at 45 per mile, plus plastic sacks, plus 2 hours at £15ph£45

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    20 Comments- join the conversation...

    Guest Avatar
    Aunty P 10th May, 2012 @ 13:59

    I've read that inventory photos should ideally be signed and dated by the tenant and landlord (or representative) on the day of check-in. I think the ICE would find signatures hard to dispute.

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    The Landlord Avatar
    The Landlord 10th May, 2012 @ 14:49

    Hi Aunty P,

    Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.

    Will that be enough though? What's stopping the tenant from disputing the authenticity of the signature (their signature will be on the tenancy agreement to copy)?

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    Guest Avatar
    YesAdam 10th May, 2012 @ 16:16

    Adjudicator accused guy in your example as a fraudster, nice!

    Its good to get inventory signed by tenant, sure LL they can say its not their signature - but along with dated photographs it adds extra evidence.

    One idea though, maybe an App that instantly uploads photo with time and geostamp from phone's may be a good idea. Getting a 3rd party involved mitigates chance of manipulation. I thought about this before, but myself I use proper camera not phone for photos.

    3
    The Landlord Avatar
    The Landlord 11th May, 2012 @ 07:54

    Most people have said that the best thing to do is get the photos signed and dated by both landlord and tenant. I also just received this email:

    "Take pics - as suggested - date stamped - as suggested.

    Print copies off - 4 pics to a sheet, copy for you and copy for tenant. Get the tenant to sign at the bottom to agree that the pics you have taken are a true representation of the condition of the property. You can include this as part of the inventory document."

    @YesAdam
    Ha, that does sound like a good idea for an app. But like you, I also use a proper camera, and I think most people still do for inventories because they still take much clearer and sharper images. Plus, I think getting the tenant to sign the photographs is crucial.

    Thanks for the comments, folks!

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    Guest Avatar
    Sian 11th May, 2012 @ 07:55

    This will always be an on going issue as it really is down to what the adjudicator will except.

    We produce inventories using HD video with a daily paper clearly shown at the beginning of the footage but you could quite rightly argue that it is not total proof. We also provide embedded digital photographs that attach directly to a template so we cannot actually manipulate the dates ourselves as once it has gone to the server the pictures cannot be altered.

    I think the key point to be made is that any photographic / videoed inventory needs to be accompanied by a very comprehensive written inventory that can be matched (easily) with the video / photo evidence.

    The issue that we find is that letting agents are more interested in the cost of the inventory rather than its ability to protect the landlord and tenant. If you pay less you will get less!

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    Guest Avatar
    fredo 13th May, 2012 @ 10:00

    Almost anything can be faked with photos, and including today's paper isn't even a difficult one.

    The way to get your evidence accepted is either to have it verified by a reliable third party or by the tenant themselves. Having secret inventories which the tenant has never seen turning up later is always going to raise questions in a dispute situation (I don't even know why you would do that anyway).

    If the tenant has signed the inventory which accompanied the tenancy agreement, and the two are cross referenced (or appears in the video) they are going to find it hard to claim later that it has been faked - although it is worth making them sign and date every page.

    If they claim it is inaccurate after signing a statement saying it is accurate and representative they will probably be hitting a dead end.

    I think all the advice about newspapers will carry only slightly more weight than the time stamp which was completely rejected. I don't recommend anyone relies on that alone.

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    Guest Avatar
    Aunty P 13th May, 2012 @ 10:07

    The TDS accepted way is to have the photos clearly printed and to form part of the inventory. Every page should be signed to the tenant including the photos just like the AST. Not only would that would be pretty hard to dispute but would deter litigious tenants from going to formal dispute as good photos are much better proof of condition than a written inventory even if it's provided by an independent inventory clerk.

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    Guest Avatar
    lucy 18th May, 2012 @ 23:59

    get the photos signed and dated by both landlord and tenant.

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    The Landlord Avatar
    The Landlord 22nd May, 2012 @ 11:30

    I've just updated this blog post. Please read the updated email from an adjudicator - very interesting!

    9
    Guest Avatar
    pab 22nd May, 2012 @ 17:42

    As a Scottish landlord who will soon be forced into this piss take come November I'm still formulating my strategy on how to handle inventories and the post from the Adjudicator is interesting. I was personally leaning towards doing a (ha, lengthy) video before a tenants entry since it allows you to cover everything without taking a plethora if individual photos and more importantly can be used to write up a detailed written inventory when you get home to a computer.

    In terms validation I thought a nice touch would be to upload the video as an unlisted video to youtube and have the link included on the written inventory or lease agreement before having the tenant sign&date - the upload date on the video would also be a nice confirmation on when the video was taken and as far I'm aware it can't be edited while retaining the same link. This also has a convenient feature of being an easy way to provide video evidence to tenants/adjudicators without burning dvd's etc.

    Assuming the video evidence is stored digitally though you can prove infallibly that the content hasn't been modified/edited by simply including the video's MD5 hash (or SHA256 hash if you want be a geek and anal about it) on the written inventory or lease agreement, which again is signed&dated by the tenant. A hash is simply a string of characters which can be thought of as a fingerprint and anyone who was given the video would simply have to hash the video for themselves and check it matches the one on the lease agreement to know it hasn't been altered between those dates. This has been standard practice on the internet for years btw when checking the validity of digital files. The difficulty here though would probably be making sure the adjudicator would understand why the hash is beneficial or indeed how he could check it for himself.

    Personally I think I'll be sticking to the lengthy video and a few wide shots of every room, all referenced on the written inventory which the tenant will have seven days to go-over then sign.

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    Guest Avatar
    cardifflandlord 23rd May, 2012 @ 14:06

    Thank you adjudicator whomever you may be! Really excellent insight into whats required.

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    Guest Avatar
    christian 15th June, 2012 @ 22:50

    The only absolutely undisputed way of date stamping something is to send yourself a hard copy of all the photos by recorded delivery.

    Keep the photos in the sealed envelope that is date-stamped by the post office and open the envelope only in presence of the judge/adjudicator on hearing day.

    You can of course refer to e-copies in the mean time.

    even newspapers are easily faked. there nothing stopping a clued-up landlord buying a copy and keeping it in a safe place, and past newspapers can be bought on the internet for about £15

    Chris

    12
    Guest Avatar
    Rory Duffy 2nd February, 2014 @ 15:39

    It really is simple....get an independent and impartial inventory company to compile the Check-in and Check-out Reports.

    I am an Adjudicator for a Tenancy Deposit Scheme and I have made over 1500 legally binding Decisions. Personally, I attach full evidential weight to photographs that contain a verifiable digital date and I would only ever reduce that evidential weight if the Tenant can provide substantive contradictory evidence......which is very often never the case. It is not for me to assume that the Landlord has intentionally manipulated the user settings of his/her camera; Adjudicator's assess their evidence on a balance of probabilities and I would always be satisfied on a balance of probabilities (especially when there is no evidence by the Tenant to the contrary) that digitally dated photographs were taken on that day.

    However, this would not be such an issue if the Landlord simply had independent and impartial inventory company (preferably the same one from the start and end of the tenancy) carry out a comprehensive and detailed report on the condition of the property at the start and end of the tenancy. The prices for having these carried out are very fair and reasonable (most companies are approximately £10.00 either side of £100.00) and if the Landlord inserts a clause in the Tenancy Agreement making the Tenant liable for this fee, then there is no out of pocket expense for the Landlord. I do not think any Adjudicator worth their grain of salt would dismiss the findings of an independent inventory company......so save yourself the time and hassle of taking photographs, purchasing newspapers blah dee blah dee blah, and get a good and reputable inventory company to come in and compile their findings....you can even request and/or use companies to take digitally dated photographs in support of their findings.

    I would recommend any company registered with the AIIC (Association of Independent Inventory Clerks).

    :-)

    13
    Guest Avatar
    Sian 2nd February, 2014 @ 16:02

    It's good to have an adjudicators viewpoint on this but why only recommend AIIC clerks? Is an APIP registered inventory provider not considered equally as competent?

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    Guest Avatar
    Rory Duffy 2nd February, 2014 @ 17:34

    Yes, please accept my apologies for that oversight.....an APIP registered company would be considered just as competent.

    Some Landlord's tend to go through their Agent but as an Adjudicator, I would attach restricted evidential weight to this, unless supported by further substantive evidence, as it has not been carried out by a wholly independent and impartial third party.

    APIP - AIIC, same difference. As long as it is completely independent, I would attach full evidential weight to the documents findings.

    To save expense, I have found it to be quite common to include the charge for this service to that of the Tenant!

    15
    Guest Avatar
    Sian 2nd February, 2014 @ 18:19

    No need to apologise Rory!

    It's a hard fought struggle to get Agents and Landlords to see how important inventory reports are and that they have the capacity to win or lose a deposit or claim if not done correctly.

    16
    Guest Avatar
    Benji 2nd February, 2014 @ 19:42

    Wow Rory!!
    That really is impressive!
    If only I had known what a fair and reasonable service was available!!
    I've just been knocking up an inventory and digital photos for about a quid and absorbing the cost myself. All along, I could have been charging tenants £100 for such an important service.
    If all your industry is as honest as you, it is sure to be a lasting success.

    17
    Guest Avatar
    pab 4th March, 2014 @ 16:17

    "I have found it to be quite common to include the charge for this service to that of the Tenant"

    "if the Landlord inserts a clause in the Tenancy Agreement making the Tenant liable for this fee, then there is no out of pocket expense for the Landlord"

    ....Not lawful in Scotland.

    18
    Guest Avatar
    C Payne 20th April, 2015 @ 17:07

    disgusted to find that without permission my daughters old landlord uploaded a video of her property to u tube complete with her name and address even though it was a police assisted move this cannot be legal?

    19
    Guest Avatar
    Jenny 5th June, 2016 @ 00:56

    Hi. I'm After some advice an inventory check was done before I rented a place, without me present and then done without me present when I left by an independent 3rd party. They said I caused damage and are using a photo for evidence but it has no date stamp will this likely count as evidence?

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