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It is important for landlords to take care of their most important assets: their properties. While they may not be living there (in most cases anyway), they should still expect that their homes will be well taken care of, with tenants accepting a certain amount of responsibility not just for general care but also for anything which they damage or destroy.

That said, a bit of wear and tear is sadly inevitable. You could not expect tenants to avoid wearing down the carpeting on your stairs, or to hold them accountable when decade-old wallpaper starts to peel.

So, how do you tell when a change in your property is the result of irresponsible tenants or wear and tear? The answer is with an inventory report, a detailed document outlining the state of the property at the point when the tenants move in. With this, any changes that take place, such as tenants ruining a piece of furniture, can be spotted and assessed with complete certainty.

An inventory needs to be thorough, so do not try to do it yourself just to save money. Creating an inventory report is a lot like writing a legal contract: if anything is out of place, you could find your hands tied if you want to hold your tenants accountable for anything. Instead, have the report drawn up by a local estate agent or property manager.

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Do I need an inventory report?

Technically speaking, having an inventory made at the start of a tenancy is not strictly mandatory. Failing to create an inventory will not invalidate a tenancy or land you with any fines as a landlord. 

However, creating one is still highly advisable. Without an inventory report, you could find it difficult to hold tenants accountable for:

  • Lost belongings
  • Damage to furniture or decor
  • Lack of cleanliness (failing to keep a property clean is not considered fair wear and tear)

If you cannot have tenants pay for violations, any replacement, repair or maintenance fees will need to come out of your own pocket. On the other hand, if you can prove that your tenants are responsible then you can deduct the necessary funds from their deposit.

It is important to note that nothing can be assumed in a case like this. An adjudicator would not assume that your property was spick and span, or that it included all the furniture you claim it did, without an inventory report to prove it. In other words, the burden of proof is on landlords, not the tenants, so getting an inventory report done should be a huge priority. 

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Writing an inventory report

A full inventory report is a highly detailed document, covering each and every room and area in a property including hallways, gardens, driveways, outbuildings, boundary fences and so on. The report will describe the details of any included fixtures, furniture, fittings, decor or other contents, as well as relevant meter readings. It will also make note of the standard of cleanliness of the property (whether it was professionally cleaned, reasonably clean etc.)

This may sound like a lot, but you need to believe us when we say that this level of detail is absolutely key. An inventory will usually be a dozen pages long at least, detailing the exact condition of a property right down to the scuff marks on the walls.

How they work is simple: there will usually be two inventory reports, one taken immediately before the start of a tenancy and the second just after it ends. Each will be signed by the tenants to certify that they agree with the documented condition of the property. The second inventory report will go into the same level of detail as the first while also highlighting any visible changes. As such, it is important to have the second inventory written up as soon after the tenancy finishes as possible.

Because of the meticulous detail required for an inventory report, they are almost always created by experienced estate agents or surveyors. Again, the burden of proof is on landlords rather than tenants: if you do not have an inventory to prove that a change was caused by tenants, an adjudicator is unlikely to take your side.

Keep in mind that if your tenants feel that the inventory is inaccurate, they may well ask for changes. For example, if the inventory overstated the condition or quality of a piece of furniture, the tenants would not want to be held responsible for it not fitting this description later on.

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Should my inventory report contain photos or videos?

When it comes to proving the contents or condition of a property, you may think that simply taking photos or videos would be more convenient than relying on text. 

While this is certainly true to an extent, this kind of evidence is not always clear. For example, a photograph of a room would not necessarily convey its cleanliness, while low quality footage would reveal very little about the standard of a property’s decor.

This kind of visual evidence can certainly be valuable for an inventory report, but it should not be used as a substitution for exact text descriptions. Anything added to the report should also be high quality, ideally taken by a professional local photographer.

It is worth noting that the evidence will need to be signed and dated by your tenants. If they feel that an attached photo or video is inaccurate, they may force you to amend the inventory report.

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Using an inventory report to hold tenants accountable

At the end of a tenancy you will need to decide whether any visible changes are down to your tenants or general wear and tear. In the former case, a landlord will be within their rights to take money out of the tenancy deposit in order to pay for repairs, maintenance or replacements.

You may make a deduction to pay for:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Damage to property
  • Missing items
  • Cleaning costs

However, you cannot take money for:

  • Costs for re-letting the property 
  • Unpaid gas, electricity or water bills if the tenant’s name is on the bill
  • Acceptable wear and tear
  • Making the property better than it was at the start of the tenancy (for example, having tenants pay for a cleaner or decorator unnecessarily)

Meticulousness will also come into play here. You will need to keep a record of any deductions as well as justify them. Your tenants may ask for this, along with a breakdown of any deductions so that they can be scrutinised.

Obviously, your tenants will want to minimise any losses to their deposit. As such, they may offer to book their own Pros for repairs and maintenance or to replace missing items themselves. Whether or not you accept this is up to you. For example, you may want to order exact replacements for any missing items or hire a Pro you know to be reliable for any necessary work. 

Keep in mind that your tenants may also choose to challenge any deductions. In this case your Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme will offer a free dispute resolution service. The deposit will be held until a decision is reached, with the service distributing it as appropriate after it decides whether the tenants are accountable as the landlord claims.