Archive for the ‘Inventories’ Category

Better Inventories Required

Monday, June 6th, 2011
Better Evidence For Landlords
I have been very busy recently getting a new project off the ground which could really change the fortunes of landlords and letting agents in deposit protection disputes. 
The Problem With Inventories
All too often landlords lose deposit disputes simply because their inventory evidence doesn’t show what they need it to show. Inventory clerks tend to focus their attention on any parts of the property that are already damaged, whereas what landlords require is an inventory that shows the property in it’s undamaged condition at the beginning of the tenancy. Only with concrete evidence that the property was in good condition to start with can the landlord show that the tenant is responsible for any change in condition – damage to the property.
Ordinary inventories tend to come with a dozen or so photographs by way of supporting visual evidence. It is simply not possible with a few photographs to categorically demonstrate the condition and cleanliness of every part of every wall, every metre of skirting board, or the inside of every kitchen cupboard. 

A New Inventory

I have been working closely with the Video Inventory Network on their video inventory training course, developing a system that enables inventory clerks to take an average of 60,000 still images per inventory to corroborate their work.

The answer, of course, is to use a video camera to record 25 still images per second while conducting the inventory, enabling the clerk to provide close up images of every part of the property at no additional cost to the landlord.

The landlord receives a detailed written report as usual with chaptered DVDs of corresponding video, which the tenant can view and sign. If the tenant later disputes the landlord’s proposed deductions from the deposit, the landlord will have the written inventory, corroborated by visual evidence, which will show any given part of the property in the condition it was in at the beginning of the tenancy.
This could really redress the balance in deposit protection disputes.
Find Out More
The Video Inventory Network run two-day training courses on how to carry out video inventories. The course is ideal for landlords or letting agents looking to carry out high quality inventories in house, for experienced inventory clerks who want to add video inventories to their available products, and for those new to inventories wanting to set up a full time or part time inventory business.
See www.videoinventorynetwork.com for more details.

The Future Of Deposit Protection Disputes

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011
I had a really enjoyable day last week giving an inventory masterclass to the experienced team at Inventory House in London’s Docklands, who had asked me to consult on the format and content of their inventories. Their inventory product is already very professional and the guys really know their business inside out, so we were able to delve very deep into what makes a great inventory, touching on subjects as diverse as how deposit protection adjudicators arrive at decisions and awards, how to maintain admissibility of evidence for criminal court and how language is used to describe phenomena in quantum mechanics.
One of the recurring themes of the day was whether the deposit protection dispute model as currently practiced is sustainable and how the inventory industry, and other interested parties, might be able to influence any developments.
Several questions kept recurring which included: 
Whether the methodology for resolving disputes through adjudication could be standardised, as there is a feeling that the standard of proof was interpreted differently across the schemes?
Whether the schemes could agree a baseline of expected lifespans for commonly claimed for items (such as carpet) in an average tenancy, to prevent landlords claiming with unrealistic expectations, or unnecessarily pursuing claims that are without merit?
A feeling that the trained inventory professional’s opinion is underused led to discussion of whether a (self?) regulated inventory industry adhering to common standards could remove some of the burden from the deposit protection schemes’ dispute resolution departments?
Answers on a postcard please…

Mould: Condensation v Damp

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
A conversation with a client last week made me realise just how many deposit protection disputes are over the cost of repairing mould. As an adjudicator, I would dread claims relating to mould, not just because the pictures of black and green slime colonising walls would make my skin crawl, but because they always came down to the same argument, and sometimes it was very difficult to know who was right.

The landlord’s case was always that the tenant did the laundry, dried their washing, bathed and cooked without properly ventilating the property. This, they argue, caused excessive condensation to build up on the windows and in the corners, and it is in these moist areas that the mould began to grow.
The tenant’s case, without exception, was that the cause was damp. They would usually point to a problem with the building, such as gutters blocked or broken, render cracked or roof in need of repair. This, they argued, was the cause of the moisture, and the mould.
Disputes relating to mould are notoriously difficult to prove and tend to be over quite significant sums of money. When it really takes hold, there is a lot of work to be done, drying out the property and redecorating the damaged areas, and the bills can soon be up to and over the value of the deposit. All the more reason to make sure your claim has the best possible chance of success.
So what can you do to maximise your chances of success. You need an inventory for starters. If you aren’t getting a professional inventory for every tenancy, you are asking for trouble. 
If you suspect that there is a condensation problem building up, you need to conduct an interim inspection. You are entitled to do this. Best to ask your inventory company to do it for you. Give the tenant plenty of notice in writing and give the inventory agent a pass key. They will produce a report, hopefully with corresponding evidence showing the condition of the property. If there are early signs of a problem, write to the tenant explaining what you have seen, what the likely outcome might be and what you think they should do about it. Specify a date for a follow up inspection.
At the end of the tenancy, you should be offering your tenant some kind of check-out meeting as a minimum, where you go through the inventory and discuss any damage. Your inventory agent will be happy to do this for you. If there is mould at the check-out meeting, note it on the report and get some images or video of it. Make sure you get evidence that shows the cause was condensation, rather than damp. Show the mould forming above the bath, or the river marks around the windows from the water drops running down the wall.
If the tenant really wants to make it difficult, commission a report from an expert, but beware; I can recall had a case where each side had an expert’s report backing them up. Now that one really gave me a headache…

Some Thoughts On Inventories

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
A recent discussion on a linkedin.com group has sparked this weeks post. There has been a lively debate on the merits of independent inventory agents versus the perceived cost saving of landlords completing inventories themselves.
 
As a deposit protection adjudicator, it is reassuring to receive independently created inventories as you can be more confident that they are objective and, because the inventory agent wants

to get repeat business, they tend to be more thorough. In my opinion, an independently produced inventory that gives a proper detailed record of the condition of the property at a specific time is invaluable when it comes to resolving damage disputes.

 
That is not to say that all professional inventories are of good quality. Some suffer from a lack of detail or worse,  can be shown to be inaccurate. Some inventory agents will keep their prices artificially low by cutting and pasting from a previous inventory of the same property. This is not good practice and often leads to serious mistakes in the inventory. Cutting corners in this way is a false economy as when you need the inventory, it will not be reliable evidence.

If, on the other hand, a landlord submits an inventory that they have created themselves, of course an adjudicator will take account of it and give it appropriate evidential weight, but if there is a suggestion of bias or subjectivity, it is difficult for the landlord to overcome without a significant amount of evidence. 

 
Some landlords are very thorough, provide evidence to support their inventories and get the tenant to check, amend and sign the inventory, and it is rare, but not unheard of, for these landlords to be accused of bias. They tend to create their own inventories because they are not satisfied with the service they have received on previous inventories and want to ensure they get it right.
 
Other landlords provide very unprofessional documents that often suffer from brevity or a lack of appropriate detail, and which linger on subjective matters. These inventories are only useful up to a point, and there is a very real possibility that they will let the landlord down in court or at deposit protection ADR. I suspect these landlords conduct their own inventories to save money which, when you consider the average deposit dispute is over around £750, is very likely not cost effective.