Even in this digital age, where social media and the way in which we receive information has made visual content appear more important than ever before, the use of photographs in inventory reports remains a somewhat contentious issue. Our Head of Dispute Resolution, Suzy Hershman, considers whether photographs and videos are useful in determining the responsibility for damage to a property at the end of a tenancy.
First and foremost, it’s important to remind ourselves that inventories are there to protect the interests of both landlords and tenants, helping with negotiation at the end of the tenancy and minimising the risk of a deposit dispute. Therefore, in my opinion and experience, anything which helps provide hard evidence to support a claim made by either party is beneficial.
However, it may surprise many that there are still landlords, managing agents and inventory clerks, who choose not to use photographs in their inventories. Maybe because they have never had any issue with their inventories, so feel no need to change their practice.
The question then is, does it matter who prepares the inventory and if they don’t include photographs, does it mean they have no value in a deposit dispute referred to an adjudicator?
The simple answer is no. The tenant’s signature in the case of an inventory compiled by a landlord or agent is essential to demonstrate the tenant has seen and had the opportunity to make any comment on the report and then it’s all about the level of written detail which is fundamental. All too often, we see check-in and check-out inventories which follow a simple tick-box format to describe the property’s condition and standard of cleanliness. Ticking a box to rate the condition of a carpet from poor to excellent, for example, is not descriptive enough. What is considered “excellent” in one person’s opinion, can be quite different to another person.
Now consider a report which says the carpets have been professionally cleaned prior to the commencement of the tenancy (receipt provided in evidence) and notes that the lounge carpet, for example, has a burn mark. This is supported by a high-quality photograph displaying the position and size of the defect. Signed and dated by both landlord and tenant, this then provides unequivocal evidence of the condition of that carpet at the start of the tenancy. Having this detail makes it easy to make comparisons and note any differences which have occurred during the tenancy, and can be very effective when negotiating on any deduction at the end of the tenancy.
There are, of course, limitations to the use of photographs. They shouldn't be used as a replacement to a written report but rather to substantiate the written detail. Photos must be dated, particularly where not embedded into a report, otherwise they cannot be verified and should, where relevant, represent scale and indicate location. Although rare, we have had cases where landlords have sent stand-alone dated photographs of damage which are not from the property they are claiming for.
A good inventory will contain a comprehensive list of its contents, a thorough description of the condition and damage, supported by photographs, as well as the standard of cleanliness in each area. There are many levels in which a fridge or oven could be considered “dirty”; photos help show the extent of this, and give depth to information.
There are also some fantastic Apps available to the industry designed to help with the implementation of a robust check-in and check-out process, producing a comprehensive inventory. These Apps are so well designed and where used properly they are found they help to substantially reduce the number of disputes.
Remember, it really is true that “the devil is in the detail” and without it, landlords expose themselves to the risks of losing a deposit dispute.