How To Check If Windows 8.1 Is Single Language Edition How To Prepare an Inventory – UK Residential Landlords

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How To Prepare an Inventory – UK Residential Landlords

What is an inventory?

The inventory is a catalogue of the property and its’ contents. A schedule of condition is a record of condition. Most commonly the two are combined into one report and are called either the inventory or schedule of condition.

The inventory/schedule of condition has several functions:

* it is a catalogue of the property being let

* it records the condition of the property and any items that are included in the tenancy

* it forms part of the legally binding contract that is set out in the tenancy agreement between the tenant and the landlord.

Why it’s important to prepare one?

For years when it comes to inventories, landlords have got away with scribbling a few notes on a bit of paper about the condition of their property. The general principle being that accurate records were not needed. This was because as a landlord you were both ‘judge and jury’ and if and what part of the deposit was withheld to cover the costs of repair and cleaning. This is not to say that tenants had no remedies if they felt aggrieved with the decision. Under the pre April 6 2007 system they were able to take the landlord to court if they thought that they were unreasonably withholding their deposit. The judge would then decide on the merits of their claim. However, the ‘hassle’ and inconvenience to the tenant of carrying this through meant that in most cases tenants do not take matters any further, especially where the sums involved were small.

Things will never be the same again

The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) will change this cosy amateur approach in several important ways:

1. No longer will the landlord have the benefit of controlling the monies from the outset

2. Because of point 1 many tenants are likely to feel emboldened to take on the landlord if they think they even have a chance of winning the argument. There is likely to be a large jump in the number of cases where the tenant disputes the withholding of all or part of their deposit

3. The inventory will become far more important for many landlords as it is the key document in proving the condition of the property before a tenant moved in

4. The way of assessing disputes will now change. Rather than matters being resolved through the courts, most will be decided by independent arbitrators. Arbitration is generally seen as less adversarial and fixed by legal procedure than the courts and this is likely to result in outcomes that differ from those that occur currently.

Message to landlords

The message to landlords is clear. No longer will they be ‘judge and jury’. The result is that the number of contested deposits is likely to increase dramatically. Therefore it is more important than ever to have a carefully prepared inventory at ‘check in’ and that at ‘check out’ an accurate record of the properties condition is made. Otherwise they could end up significantly out of pocket. Landlords should look out for the TDS compliant inventory coming soon to the registered users of http://www.propertyhawk.co.uk

Landlords however do have an option not to prepare the inventory themselves.

There are two ways of avoiding the preparation process.

Firstly, if the property is fully managed by an agent then inventory taking and the subsequent ‘check out’ should be carried out by them as one of their management duties. This obviously will save you time. It will also mean that if there are problems with the condition or cleanliness of the property; the agent should rectify these and use the deposit monies to cover this expense before handing the balance back to the tenant.

The second way to get around having to prepare an inventory is to employ a specialist Inventory Clerk. These individuals carry out the whole process for you; they can also do the mid tenancy inspection as well as the final ‘check out’. The downside to this service is that it is not cheap. The costs of a check in and check out run to about £100-140 each for a standard 2 bed flat. These fees do vary, depending on the size of the property and area of the country (London will be the most expensive).

For this you will have the piece of mind that the inventory has been done professionally and comprehensively. It is possible to pass on the cost of this service to the tenants. This is quite common practice where an agent is used. However there are no hard and fast rules and the agent could equally pass on the cost of this service to the landlord. It is therefore important to be clear from the outset about what their letting and management fees include before signing up for their service.

How to prepare an inventory

The most essential thing about preparing an inventory is to adopt a system that is simple so that it is easily remembered and replicated. This will ensure that you achieve consistent results. In developing your system ensure that the inventory it produces is:

* Ordered – this way when preparing it you are less likely to miss things and also that anyone reading it can easily follow the contents.

* Comprehensive – remember this will be the document of reference should a dispute a rise and could potentially end up in front of the judge

* Verifiable – its accuracy can be agreed by anyone with few or nil additions or alterations.

* Written in Plain English – so it is easy to read and understand. This will help should the case go to court when a clearly written unambiguous report will have more credibility than one where a tenant could claim that they were unsure what they were signing. This shouldn’t be a defence but judges are only human.

The best way of producing inventories that achieve the key points given above is to divide any property into a series of rooms. This is largely straight forward; for instance most properties will have a kitchen, lounge, bedrooms, etc. However you will also have to categorise some parts of the property as a room such as hallways, a conservatory, gardens, garages, etc. Once you have established a list of these rooms; it is then a case of subdividing them into a series of component parts. These component parts once categorised will build up an overall framework.

The standard component parts used in the Property Hawk inventory are as follows:

* Doors

* Floor

* Walls

* Ceiling

* Light fittings

* Wood work

* Appliances

* Windows

* Heating

* Electricals

* Furnishings

As well as the standard component parts each room may have individual parts specific to that room; these must also be noted down. Once all these parts have been recorded, the next stage is to record items that are not fixtures or fittings. This is particularly important and time consuming where a property is furnished. In this case it will be necessary to note down every item supplied. Once this is done; you will have a complete inventory.

The next stage is to complete what is known as the schedule of condition. This can be carried out concurrently with the inventory. The object of the process is to note down the condition of each component part.

For example, in the case of the lounge under the component part of doors you would record the fact that there are two doors, newly white painted with chrome handles. This part of the process is particularly important because as I go on to discuss later it is disputes over the condition of items and what is ‘fair wear and tear’ that are the most common. This aspect is far more difficult to prove than the removal of an item and it is fair to say that judges will often side with the tenant unless the landlord can prove conclusively that it was new or in good condition. This highlights the importance of retaining receipts not only for tax purposes but also in case of a disagreement with your tenant resulting in arbitration or court action where you will then have to prove the condition of your property at ‘handover’.

Many inventory clerks use a series of abbreviations to speed up the process. This is fine providing that a full list of terms accompanying the inventory. Whilst abbreviations are useful they can also be confusing for the tenant who will need to verify the report once it is completed.

The important things to ensure are:

* That there is an adequate description of each item so that they can be verified

* That an accurate statement of condition accompanies each component item

You should avoid at all costs ambiguous language such as ‘spotlessly clean’ or emotive language so as ‘lovely fireplace’. Keep descriptions brief and factual.

If you follow these guidelines then you should end up with a comprehensive written inventory and schedule of condition that will then cover you for all eventualities.

The ‘check in’

The check in occurs at the point that the tenancy has been agreed and the landlord is in a position to hand over the keys. It is the process by where the tenant and landlord / agent who should have a fully prepared inventory / statement of condition will need to agree the cleanliness of the property as well as confirm the details of the inventory. The process involves a tour of the property. Where there are discrepancies between the original inventory then these should be noted down. Once an acceptable copy has been drawn up the landlord and tenant must sign and date it to acknowledge that the document is a fair representation of the facts. The inventory then forms part of the terms of the tenancy agreement. When photos are involved they need to be signed and dated or referred to as a clause in the tenancy agreement. (see previous sections).

Mid term inspection

The mid term inspection is one carried out by the landlord or their agent approximately halfway through a tenancy to ensure that the property is being maintained. Generally it is a short visit and the landlord or agent should use the agreed inventory to cross check the property that an unreasonable amount of damage has not occurred and that the property is being cleaned. It can also be a useful way of the landlord finding out about any small problems with the property which the tenant has failed to report. In this way the landlords should be in a position to take pre-emptive action to tackle an issue before it gets too serious. The first mid term inspection is also a way of the landlord checking on the tenant and making a judgement as to whether they are happy for the tenancy to continue or whether they wish to proceed to issue a section 21 notice requiring possession.

The ‘check out’

This is the final stage of any tenancy and the point when the benefits of having a well prepared inventory become apparent. It may be that many months has elapsed since the start of the tenancy which means unless you are blessed with a photographic memory the original condition of the property at the time of the ‘check in’ is likely to be ‘hazey’ at best. You should arrange to meet the tenant at the property to go through the inventory and check its’ condition at the time that they are ready to move out. Ensure that you allow yourself plenty of time to conduct a thorough inspection. Use a copy of the original inventory to note down any item of damage or cleanliness. Be careful to make accurate and thorough notes as these could form part of your case should a dispute a rise and go to court or arbitration.

Identifying substitute items

I’m afraid it is not uncommon for tenants to swap some of the smaller items of supplied furnishings (curtains, lampshades, pillows, for example) for their own. I don’t have a problem with this as long as the tenant then puts back these items at the end of the tenancy. What you don’t want is that the tenant swaps their ‘rubbish’ with your good stuff. This is why it is so important when preparing the inventory to

fully describe each item, quoting colour size, model and serial numbers where possible

even code mark your items with say a unique indelible mark.

Identifying extra items

Gaining unwanted ‘stuff’ is sometimes more of a problem than losing items or having them replaced by inferior goods. My experience particularly with students and sharers is that tenants can use moving as an opportunity to discard their unwanted belongings. I’m sure that they think that they are being very generous and if you are an avid ‘car booter’ it can provide a continuous supply of delightful ‘bric-a-brac’. I’m not and it is very time consuming and expensive to get rid of items; particularly larger ones such as furniture and appliances. Local authorities will generally take large domestic items away for a small fee of about £15; but why should you have to organise and pay for the removal of somebody else’s rubbish! I did have recently a case where a tenant left their car. Look out in particular for stuff being left in the cellar, attic and garage. These are all convenient hiding places often used by tenants. My advice is, don’t agree the ‘check out’ until the property is ‘completely’ cleared to your satisfaction.

One thing to note is that it is not necessary for the tenant to be present when the ‘check out’ is being compiled. Some landlords or agents actually prefer this to be the case because it allows them to concentrate on taking accurate and unbiased notes without having to answer directly to the tenant. The completed ‘check out’ statement can then be posted out to the tenant or a subsequent arrangement can be made to meet them to go through it if there are any areas of disagreement. Otherwise the tenant can post a signed copy of the ‘check out’ statement back. The downside to this two stage approach is that it is more time consuming as it requires that the landlord or agent have to make an additional journey to meet the tenant should there be any disagreement. My advice would always be to agree the ‘check out’ at the property and on the day the tenant moves out. This way you are also more likely to get a signed copy of it back; than if you have to rely on the tenants remembering to post it to you. If the tenant does refuse to sign on the spot insisting on more time to consider the form, then this could be a warning that they will contest your statement. This should prompt you to make sure that your descriptions are completely accurate and that all evidence is gathered and verified.

One thing to note is that it is not necessary for the tenant to be present when the ‘check out’ is being compiled. Some landlords or agents prefer that this to be the case because it allows them to concentrate on taking accurate and unbiased notes without having to answer directly to the tenant. The completed ‘check out’ statement can then be posted out to the tenant or a subsequent arrangement can be made to meet them to go through it if there are any areas of disagreement. Otherwise the tenant can post a signed copy of the ‘check out’ statement back. The downside to this two stage approach is that it is more time consuming as it requires that the landlord or agent have to make an additional journey to meet the tenant should there be any disagreement. My advice would always be to agree the ‘check out’ at the property and on the day the tenant moves out. This way you are also more likely to get a signed copy of it back; than if you have to rely on the tenants remembering to post it to you. If the tenant does refuse to sign on the spot insisting on more time to consider the form, then this could be a warning that they will contest your statement. This should prompt you to make sure that your descriptions are completely accurate and that all evidence is gathered and verified.

‘Fair wear & tear’

The most common disagreements at the time of ‘check out’ occur around the topic of what constitutes ‘fair wear and tear’. It’s quite easy to decide on whether a bathroom cabinet is present or the cooker works. What is more difficult and subjective is whether the marks on the bedroom carpet are just a result of several years of use or red wine stains from exuberant parties. There is nothing in statute which defines ‘fair wear and tear’; the concept is too wide ranging to be enshrined in law. The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) has however produced some useful guidelines for its’ members on what to consider when coming to a view on it. These are:

* The original age, quality and condition of any item at commencement of the tenancy

* The average useful lifespan to value ratio (depreciation) of the item

* The reasonable expected usage of such an item

* The number and type of occupants in the property

* The length of the tenants occupancy

Legally a landlord should not end up, either financially or materially in a better position than he was in at the commencement of the tenancy or than he would have been at the end of the tenancy having allowed for fair wear and tear. It follows therefore (and is an established legal tenet) that a landlord is not entitled to charge his tenants the full cost for having any part of his property, or any fixture or fitting “put back to the condition it was at the start of the tenancy.” This would constitute betterment; appropriate remedies available to the landlord might range from:

* Replacement of the damaged item where it is either severely and extensively damaged beyond economic repair or, its condition makes it unusable

* Repair or cleaning

* Compensation for diminution in inherent value of the item or the shortening of its useful normal lifespan

There is a technique for taking into account fair wear and tear and also avoiding betterment and it is called apportionment. Apportionment is the process of breaking down the costs of ‘fair wear and tear’ into measurable chunks and thereby allowing you to assign a monetary value to items in what can appear to be a very subjective process. It is probably best illustrated by way of some very general examples:

1. Minor damage to an item, a small to medium stain or mark on a carpet or mattress etc – perhaps £15 – £35 e.g. the cost of a “spot” clean or, this amount as the tenant’s contribution to a full clean of the whole item, or as compensation for the diminution. A small to medium size chip or mark, scratch or burn on a kitchen worktop – perhaps £5 – £25. A landlord could of course decide to a purchase a new item, to have a new carpet put down or a new kitchen worktop installed if they wished, but they cannot lawfully charge the tenant for the full cost. The costs should be apportioned and shared between the parties on the principles given above. E.g. cost of new carpet £500 – apportioned £465 to landlord, £35 to tenant.

2. In the rare circumstances where damage ( to the worktop/carpet/mattress/ item etc) is so extensive or severe so as to affect the achievable rent level/lettability or quality of the property the most appropriate remedy might be replacement and to apportion costs according to the age and useful lifespan of the item. Below is an example of how this might be calculated.

(a) Cost of similar replacement carpet/item = £500-00

(b) Actual age of existing carpet/item = 2 years

(c) Average useful lifespan of that type of carpet/item = 10 years

(d) Residual lifespan of carpet/item calculated as (c) less (b) = 8 years

(e) Depreciation of value rate calculated as (a) divided by (c) £50 per year

(f) Reasonable apportionment cost to tenant calculated as (d) times (e)= £400.00

What happens if there is a disagreement?

Prior to the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) the landlord or agent holding the deposit would make a deduction to cover the costs of damage and then would refund the balance to the ex-tenants within 10 working days of the final ‘check out’ being completed. The tenant would then either accept the landlords’ decision or take the matter to the county court to recover the contested amount. The TDS has changed this for tenancies created after the 6th April 2007. Refer to the section on the TDS for detailed guidance of what happens now.

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