The camera never lies? Don't you believe it
AT DDM Lettings we think digital photography is just brilliant but, as landlords and tenants around the country have been discovering to their cost, it has its limitations.
Rather than solving problems, digital snaps – particularly poor digital snaps – can actually make the resolution of any dispute more complicated.
In recent years, landlords, agents and tenants have, of course, been making great use of digital cameras as part of the process of creating inventories for houses and flats at the time that they are let.
The inventory is simply a list of the contents of a property – including the garden where applicable – and the condition of everything at the time that the tenant moves in.
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Given that today the vast majority of rented flats and houses are let unfurnished, you might question why an inventory is necessary.
However, think about it for just a second and it is obvious that although a property may be unfurnished it is still going to have a whole range of fixtures and fittings.
If they are damaged or disappear during a letting then the tenant is going to be charged, with the money being deducted from their surety deposit.
Even a so-called unfurnished house or flat is likely to have items such as carpets, curtains, fridge, freezer and cooker. Additionally, the property will be decorated and it may contain a hundred and one101, such as thermostat controls on radiators, lights, lampshades, garden furniture and so on and so forth.
We at DDM Lettings are probably the most thorough and have the most experience when it comes to property inventories and now with the introduction of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme a few years ago they became absolutely crucial.
Landlords can lose money because of sloppy agent inventories – as can tenants who are too casual in checking their inventories.
While inventories prepared by DDM Lettings for an unfurnished property typically extend to around ten pages, there have been instances in which they have run to 15 or 20 pages.
Over the top? Far from it. Disputes between landlord and outgoing tenant about the original condition of carpets, items of furniture and equipment or fittings are not unusual, can involve substantial amounts of money and do on occasion get a bit heated.
It is a fact that there are some tenants who will try to get away without paying for the damage that they certainly did cause – and the odd landlord who will try to take advantage of the situation to get the place redecorated at the outgoing tenant's expense.
However, there are a surprising number of instances in which disputes arise simply because people have actually forgotten what something was like six months earlier.
Was that mark on the work surface there when they moved in? The landlord says it certainly was not. The tenant is equally sure that it was. Check the inventory and we find that the mark was mentioned – or was not mentioned. End of argument.
DDM Lettings was one of the first to use digital photography for inventories– but we only use it as a back up to proper documentation, not as a substitute for it.
This is where the problems have been arising around the country. There are landlords who are now relying almost exclusively on photographic, and in some instances video, inventories.
It may save a lot of painstaking professional work but the resulting "evidence" can be almost useless when the matter goes to a tribunal, particularly when the issues at stake are small but expensive things such as chips and scratches to sinks and baths, knife marks on worktops, scratches to halogen hobs and the like.
Apparently the photographs that some landlords are submitting to hearings are low resolution images that are little more than thumbnail in size. Hardly impressive evidence – and tribunals are not being impressed.
In one recent case the pictures in a photographic inventory given to a tenant were not even dated. When a dispute about damage went to tribunal the landlord, not surprisingly, lost.
I would add, from the tenant's point of view, that it's obviously important to carefully check that the written – and photographic – inventory is correct, rather than shortening the process by walking around banging off a few pictures of the rooms on your mobile phone.
Those snaps may show you have a table in the room but they are unlikely to be satisfactory tribunal evidence that the surface was cracked when you moved in or that there were wine stain rings on the highly polished surface.
Tenants are given plenty of time to check inventories. A member of DDM Lettings always meets an ingoing tenant at a property, opens the place up for them and will spend 30 minutes or so going over the house or flat with them and running through the inventory
The document is then left with them for seven days, to give them further time to alert us if they discover anything that it is incorrect or inaccurate. If they do not respond then it is assumed that they accept the inventory.
Of course, there are cases where good photographs can be a lifesaver.
I recall one rather unusual instance in which the dispute was about the lawn. The landlord was adamant that the grass in the garden was not as well maintained as it had been when the tenant moved in. He wanted to deduct money from the tenant's deposit.
We checked the inventory – and specifically the inventory photographs. The grass was just above the garden gnome's head! Deposit saved. Case closed.
To find out more about our service e-mail email@example.com, visit out website www.ddmresidential.co.uk or call you local office for a Landlords Guide To Letting.