At The Tenants’ Voice we have a very active Forum community and one of the topics that frequently comes up is that of the return of the security deposit. For assured shorthold tenancies that began after 6 April 2007, the deposit must legally now be protected with one of the recognised schemes. However, while this provides protection with respect to ensuring that the money doesn’t go missing at the end of the tenancy, it doesn’t protect you against the claims that landlords can make in order to try and retain the deposit. Yes, there is an adjudication process within each scheme that can be used to decide whether the repayment of the entire deposit to the tenant is fair or not but this still requires the presentation of proof – and that’s where inventories are key.
If you thought that check in and check out inventories were just an annoying waste of time when you’re trying to either get settled or to move on then think again. Ok so they seem pretty pointless – until you run into a dispute situation that is. This is because the arbitration provided by the tenancy deposit schemes relies on proof in order to make decisions about how a deposit is dealt with and the check in and check out inventories are a big part of this. So, if you want to safeguard your deposit as far as is practical then you need to take control of your check in and check out process. The reality is that agents normally drive this process and tenants often find themselves being unfairly treated, either given no opportunity to be there at the check in/out or being pushed into signing a document they’ve had little time to read in order to deal with a deposit return or hand over keys. However, these processes are as much for your benefit as for the landlord’s so it’s worth asserting yourself. Here are some tips on how to make the inventories work for you:
- READ the inventory that you’re given. Some agents aren’t entirely honest about the state of a property on the inventory, others simply make mistakes. Either way, if you don’t read the document then you have no idea what you might be passively agreeing to.
- BE THERE during any inspection, especially with respect to the check out. Where there is a check out clerk you can get an immediate idea of whether they’re likely to recommend any of the deposit is retained and you will also be able to ensure that the check out inventory reflects the property as you left it.
- CHECK the inventory with your own eyes i.e. take it around with you and note where you can see damage that isn’t mentioned (or something is mentioned when it shouldn’t be) or if there is any missing or additional furniture. During check in remember to note any existing wear and tear, such as scuff marks on the walls or worn patches on the carpet.
- FOLLOW UP QUICKLY if the inventory is wrong – you have a limited time in which to legitimately claim that any damage etc precedes – or is not due to – your inhabitation of the property so this needs to be done fast, preferably on the day you move in or out. Provide photos where possible or ask someone to come out and see issues that weren’t picked up during the official process.
- DON’T BE PUSHED AROUND by the agents. They should provide you with an up to date and accurate inventory on both check in and check out – that’s one of the reasons the landlord is paying them. Don’t be fobbed off with ‘oh it doesn’t really matter,’ ‘you don’t need to be there,’ or we don’t have the document right now.’ It’s in your interests to make sure that you have a hand in these documents, that they reflect reality and that you have a copy of both in case you do need to dispute a damage claim.