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.
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
Claim Amount Check in ref Check out ref Invoice Repaint bed 1 £300 Para 2.9 Para 4.4 xyz painters Damaged kitchen unit £200 Para 4.2 Para 5.7 abc kitchens Gardening £150 Para 5.7 Para 8.2 See 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.
Claim Labour Cost Cut grass 2 hours at £25 ph including landlords lawnmower/fuel £50 Cut hedge 2 hours at £15 ph £30 Spray weedkiller on patio 1 hour at £15ph £15 can of weedkiller from B&Q (see receipt) Removal of rubbish Removal of rubbish to tip 30 miles at 45 per mile, plus plastic sacks, plus 2 hours at £15ph £45