A Tenant Guide to Inventories and Check-ins

When you move into a new rented property, one of the first bits of life admin you will have to deal with is the inventory. 

But most tenants are not actually sure what an inventory is or what it’s meant to do. I see a lot of questions from tenants about this, like: 

  • Do you always lose a little bit of your deposit for wear and tear?
  • Can I be charged for a check in or inventory?
  • My landlord didn’t do an inventory
  • I didn’t sign my inventory report

If any of this is ringing a bell, then don’t worry, you’ll have all the answers right here. 

What Is an Inventory?

An inventory is a record of the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy. It is agreed by the landlord and the tenant. If the property is furnished, then it includes the furnishings. If it has outdoor areas like a garden or balcony, then it includes those, too. 

The exterior structure of the property (e.g. the roof tiles) is the landlord’s duty to maintain, so it might not be included in the inventory. But the contract may require the tenant to perform some maintenance, such as cleaning the exterior windows or keeping the guttering clear of debris.

For each item in the inventory, there will be a brief description of its condition. For example “light scuff marks” or just “good”. There should be accompanying photographs, too, but some people won’t bother. This is bad practice. 

Who Conducts the Inventory and Do I Get a Say on its Contents?

The inventory is conducted by the landlord, their agent, or a professional inventory clerk. They will attend the property, survey the contents and record its condition. 

You do have a say over what is in the inventory. When the landlord/agent/clerk is finished, they send the report to you.

You can then go through the report and can add things or contest things. For example, if they forgot about a chair in the second bedroom you can tell them to add it. Or you may disagree about the condition of the door handle in the bathroom. 

You send over all your amendments and then you both either sign it at the check in, or just agree in writing that it is an accurate and comprehensive report of the condition of the property.

What Is the Point of the Inventory? It’s All about the Deposit

The primary function of the inventory report is as evidence in the case that the landlord wants to deduct money from the tenant’s tenancy deposit. It can also be used by tenants to challenge a landlord’s deductions. 

Because the report is agreed by the landlord and tenant, and is (or should be) backed up by photos, it is a powerful piece of evidence to show to a deposit scheme’s dispute resolution service.

Other types of evidence (e.g. receipts) are accepted by the deposit schemes, but without an inventory, a landlord would struggle to make any deductions from a tenant’s deposit in the case of them damaging the property of its furnishings. They could try, of course, but without some form of evidence, their claim would struggle to succeed. And the best evidence is an inventory. 

What about Routine Deposit Deductions and ‘Wear and Tear’?

If you take good care of the property during the tenancy, then there is no reason for the landlord to deduct anything from your deposit. Some tenants assume that they will lose a small amount of their deposit every time, but you don’t have to just put up with this, and especially not if your landlord didn’t even do an inventory. 

A certain amount of deterioration in the condition of the property and its furnishings is expected during every tenancy. And the longer the tenancy, the more is expected. This is the idea of fair wear and tear. 

Landlords cannot deduct money from your deposit for fair wear and tear. There’s no precise definition of wear and tear, but if you use the property and its supplied furnishings in a normal, responsible way, then you shouldn’t have to pay any damages for the natural deterioration of their condition during the course of the tenancy. Shelter have a guide on what is included in wear and tear.

What Is an Inventory vs. a Check-In? 

An inventory is one of several things which may be included at a tenancy check-in. A check-in is when the landlord (or their agent/clerk) completes several admin tasks at the property, usually in the presence of the tenants.

Depending on the landlord/agent’s modus operandi, the check-in can include:

  • Performing the inventory
  • Getting the tenant to sign the inventory
  • Handing over the keys to the tenant
  • Taking meter readings
  • Serving the tenant the How to Rent booklet
  • Serving the prescribed information about how the tenancy deposit is protected
  • Showing the tenant the Gas Safety Certificate and the EPC (and maybe also the PAT and the EICR)
  • Giving the tenant the landlord’s emergency contact details, etc.

We at OpenRent think many of these things should happen well before the move-in day. But you should not be surprised to see any of these in a check-in. 

The ‘check-in’ concept, I suspect, was created to justify charging tenants a ‘Check-In Fee’ before the Tenant Fees Act banned them in June 2019. Those fees are illegal now, but the concept of the check-in endures. 

What Does an Inventory Report Actually Look Like?

This is exactly what an inventory report looks like

As you can see, it goes through every room of the property, including the garden and the utility meters, and describes what is there and what condition it is in. They are usually very long and boring.

It is common for the report to go through each room and list each feature in the same order. For example, starting at the floor, then the walls, then the furnishing. Fixtures and windows, then the ceiling and lights. This keeps things easy to follow and easier to find later. 

How Should My Landlord Conduct the Inventory?

Ideally the landlord will do the inventory (themselves or via an agent/clerk) before you move in, or very soon after you move in. This makes it clear that any damage cannot have been caused by you. 

There’s no need for you to be there when the inventory is being conducted because you will be able to add to and challenge the report later. You should be able to attend, however, if you have already moved in and you want to be present while a stranger is in your new home.

The landlord should give you a fair amount of time to check the report and make your additions/amendments. A week or so should be enough. After that time they may say they will assume that it is accurate if you don’t respond. That is fair enough, so make sure you respond in time with your own photographic evidence of anything you are contesting.

If the report uses terms like “good” and “fair” to describe the condition of items, then these terms should be clearly defined, since otherwise they are quite meaningless. 

The landlord may use a professional inventory clerk to perform the inventory and other check-in services, but there is no need to be concerned if they do not. Any competent person can perform a good  inventory of their own property, and it is in their own interest to do a thorough job, since they need to know the true state of their property. 

What if My Landlord Did Not Conduct an Inventory?

If your landlord didn’t conduct an inventory, then they will have a hard time providing evidence to a deposit scheme’s dispute resolution service in the event that they claim some of your deposit and you contest their claim. 

But the inverse is true, too. No inventory means you won’t be able to demonstrate what damage to the property already existed before you moved in. 

The inventory is a basic process that any competent landlord should complete.  So what should you do if they don’t? 

You should ask your landlord for an inventory report. If they don’t arrange one, you should take dated pictures of the property so you have a record of its condition. You should let the landlord know the possible consequences, with regard to the deposit, of not having an inventory signed by the tenant. 

Notable Replies

  1. Sam says:

    Hi Kiran, yes if the fee is in a tenancy agreement signed before 1st June 2019, and is due to be paid before 1st June 2020, then it can still be charged (unfortunately).

    Sam

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