The ultimate guide to a landlord inventory and schedule of condition - Total Landlord Insurance

July 31, 2023
The ultimate guide to a landlord inventory and schedule of condition - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

An inventory for a rental property is a document that details the contents and condition of every area of the property, inside and out. It should be done before a tenant moves in and then when they move out and may also be used in periodical inspections. In this way, there is a written record of the contents and condition of the property at specific points in time that can be used to evidence deterioration during the tenancy.

Some of that deterioration will be wear and tear and some may be damage. The more detailed an inventory, the easier it is to decide whether the tenant is responsible for compensating the landlord for making any necessary repairs.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about inventories, including what should be in an inventory report, who should carry them out and what happens if you don’t have one. But let’s start with why you need an inventory when renting property.

Why is it important to have an inventory and schedule of condition for a rented property?

Inventories are there to protect both landlords and tenants. Since deposit protection was introduced in 2007, the quality of inventories has improved immensely due to their fundamental importance when the landlord wants to consider making a deduction from the deposit to pay for damage caused by the tenant. If the landlord and tenant are unable to negotiate with success, they need to provide the inventories, as evidence, to the deposit protection scheme.

A comprehensive inventory, taken at the beginning and end of a tenancy, is evidence of how the condition has changed during the tenancy. A landlord or managing agent – or, if there’s a dispute, the adjudication provider or service - can then make a judgement on what can be considered natural wear and tear, and what constitutes damage that the tenant should be charged for.

The leading cause of end of tenancy disputes for mydeposits England and Wales Custodial scheme is cleaning, which was present in 26% of cases in 2022, followed by repairs, which were present in 21% of cases in 2022.

And with the Renters (Reform) Bill proposing that landlords should not be able to unreasonably refuse a tenant’s request to keep a pet, it’s likely that more tenancies in the future will include animals, which may (it’s not guaranteed!) increase the risk of damage to the property. That means it’s especially important that landlords have a thorough, detailed inventory that clearly proves the condition of the home before the pet began living there. See mydeposits guide to lets for pets for more information.

A detailed inventory showing the condition of a property at the start of the tenancy agreement is the only way a landlord can be sure of the extent of any damage which may have been done by a pet. Any dispute may well centre around what constitutes fair wear and tear. The only way to resolve that is to have accurate documentation and photographic representation of the state of the property when the tenant moved in.

Daniel Evans, chair of the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks

What should be included in an inventory report?

A robust check-in inventory is a comprehensive list of the property’s contents and areas, with a schedule of condition for each. There should be a detailed description of the condition of each room in the property and its fixtures - that’s everything from the paint on the living room ceiling to the shower head in the bathroom - as well as the standard of cleanliness throughout.

Often, a scale of ‘standard’ terms is used - for instance, from ‘brand new’ to ‘very poor condition’ – while some inventory clerks use a ‘traffic light’ system, rating the condition either green, amber or red, which can be more ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Along with a written description and rating, the inventory should include good quality photographs, which should be time and date stamped, and ideally embedded in the report.

What should also be included in the inventory report:

  • A general description of the condition of the exterior including garden (front and rear) and any facilities, e.g. garden furniture, a shed or a garage
  • Whether electrical appliances, bathroom fixtures and lights are working
  • The result of the legally required smoke and CO alarm tests
  • Gas and electricity meter readings - with photographs
  • Details of all keys supplied to the tenant

Is there a standard inventory template?

There is no specific format that has to be followed, but you can find inventory templates online, and Total Landlord’s partner, mydeposits, has a free inventory checklist for landlords, agents and tenants to follow to make sure you have covered every area.

There are also companies, that provide software to help landlords produce professional inventories, inspection reports and more, although this kind of investment is more likely to appeal to full-time self-managing landlords. For most other landlords, the best solution is to use an independent inventory clerk, who will have their own professional inventory system.

How to do a check-in inventory for a rental property

The check-in inventory should ideally be made a few days before the tenant moves in but after the property has been cleaned and prepared. This leaves adequate time for the inventory to be checked by the landlord, if compiled by a letting agent or either the landlord or agent, if prepared by a third-party.

Whoever is carrying out the inventory should start with the front door and walk through the property, noting every area, fitting and item and rating its condition:

  • Door, including the handle and closures
  • Ceiling and light fittings
  • Curtains or blinds and their fittings
  • Walls and any hangings
  • Skirting
  • Floor
  • Sockets and light switches
  • Fittings
  • Furniture

They should then take a photograph, or video, of each room or area as a whole, then any items you’ve provided – e.g. bed, fridge, shower, furniture, décor, carpets – and any specific places where there is already wear and tear or some damage.

And finally, take a walk around the exterior, making a note of the condition of outbuildings, garden furniture, etc., and taking photographs.

Importantly, ask or make sure that the photographs have a date and time stamp – this is much easier today, as smartphones do it automatically. Bear in mind that the more detailed the inventory, the easier it is to prove damage at the end of the tenancy.

For more information and tips on how different rooms and areas of a property should be checked, see this mydeposits checklist.

Does a tenancy inventory need to be signed?

When the tenant checks in, it’s good practice for someone to walk around the property with them to make sure they agree with the contents of the inventory. They should then be given a copy of the report and also sign a copy for record keeping purposes. Common practice is for the tenant to just sign a declaration form to say they have received it.

They may be happy to do that there and then but it’s likely to be a long document, so it’s fair to leave it with them for a few days so they can read it properly and be given the opportunity to report any issues in the first week before confirming the content is correct.

While a physical signature was the most common practice in the past, it is now the norm to email the tenant a copy, so you have a time and date stamp to prove they were sent a copy. You can also request a ‘read receipt’. Unless the tenant does report anything as incorrect during those first few days, in writing, the tenant cannot later challenge the starting condition.

Who can do an inventory check?

Anyone can put an inventory together; however, because it is an important document and there is so much detail required, it’s advisable to use a professionally trained inventory clerk – ideally one who is a member of the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC).

They know exactly what needs to be included and can get the job done efficiently, saving you time and hassle. Using an independent third party can also help reassure the tenant that there’s no bias.

If you have a managing agent, they should be able to arrange to have the inventory carried out on your behalf, although there may be an additional cost, depending on what’s included in the management package. If you self-manage, you can search for a local AIIC member on their website.

As the technology is out there for landlords, letting agents and third-party inventory companies to use, anyone can create an inventory. However, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail. From a disputes point of view, we will review any inventory and the more detailed it is, and the better the quality of photos, the more it stands up as good evidence. In our experience the majority of the good quality inventories are carried out using software.

Suzy Hershman, Resolution Department Lead, mydeposits

Who pays for an inventory check?

Since the Tenant Fees Act (2019) came into force, landlords and letting agents in England have been banned from charging certain fees to tenants – which includes the cost of preparing an inventory. As such, the landlord is responsible for paying for the inventory.

Letting fees are also banned in Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, while letting agents can’t charge tenants for any of the costs of setting up a tenancy, it remains legal for a landlord to make these charges directly.

Does an inventory need to be taken during the tenancy?

While it’s certainly not necessary to carry out a full inventory, it’s a good idea to take a copy of the check-in report when carrying out mid-term or other periodical inspections so you can compare and note any differences or damage and discuss it with the tenant.

This is especially important if the tenant is living in the property long term, as it’s possible for substantial damage to accumulate over the course of several years. Being able to identify deterioration and damage during the tenancy - leaks and damp, for example - gives both the landlord and tenant the chance to have repairs made as soon as possible and before they become a big problem. And having a clear picture of what’s happened during the tenancy is very helpful when it comes to discussing responsibilities and any associated costs at the end.

How to do a check-out inventory for a rental property

The check-out inventory should be done once the tenant has moved all their belongings out of the property, but it’s important to make every effort for the tenant to be present so that any damage can be discussed. If it can be agreed in person who is responsible for what, there’s much less chance of the tenant challenging any proposed costs or deductions from the deposit when the tenancy ends.

Ideally the same person or inventory company should carry out both the check-in and check-out inventories, to make sure there is a consistent format, and make it easy to identify changes during the tenancy. The easiest way to proceed if you are doing it yourself, is to simply make notes on a copy of the check-in document that can then be updated on the digital file afterwards. If using a software package, these often allow you to comment against check-in.

Take photographs of any damage that is evidently not wear and tear – and with things like scratches and stains, it’s advisable to have a ruler or measuring tape in the photograph, so that the size and extent of the damage is clear.

Record all meter readings and take time-stamped photographs, so that there can be no dispute over the tenant’s final bills.

Importantly, the tenant is responsible for leaving the property cleaned to the same standard as it was when they moved in, so make sure this is noted at check out. If cleaning is required, the tenant can be charged but only for the extent of cleaning required. Read our article which includes an end of tenancy cleaning checklist for more information.

The tenant should always be sent a copy of the check-out inventory. Where any negotiation on costs is needed, or adjudication is required, copies of both the check-in and check-out reports can be discussed and will need to be provided as evidence and to support each party’s claim.

What’s the difference between damage and wear and tear?

‘Fair wear and tear’ is the deterioration of a property and its contents that would naturally happen over time – differences that would be expected as a result of reasonable use. This includes things like minor scuffs and chips on paintwork, tread marks in carpets and loose hinges on kitchen cupboard doors. When deciding what’s ‘reasonable’, you’ve got to consider the starting condition, number of people living in the property and the length of time they’ve lived there. Read mydeposits guide to the life expectancy of rental products for more information on the factors that need to be considered when distinguishing between fair wear and tear and what might exceed this.

However, if the tenant has either deliberately or accidentally caused any damage, while living in the property, then the landlord has a right to expect them to pay for repairs, on the understanding that the costs claimed cannot amount to ‘new for old’. So, for example, if there are significant stains on the carpet, broken tiles in the bathroom or cracked windows, that would be considered damage.

For more on fair wear and tear, see this mydeposits article and watch this video of Suzy Hershman, Resolution Department Lead at mydeposits:

Do you need an inventory to get landlord insurance?

Having an inventory is not a legal requirement for landlord insurance to be valid. However, if you want to make a claim for damage caused during the tenancy, it will help expedite the claim if you can supply clear evidence of the original condition.

And although an inventory should protect you as a landlord in case you need to withhold money from your tenant’s deposit to pay for damage, there’s always the chance that your claim may be unsuccessful or that the cost of repairs is greater than the amount of the deposit held.

Having an appropriate landlord insurance policy should cover the cost of making good damage to your property during a tenancy if it is as a result of an insured peril, ensuring you are not left out of pocket. However, understanding your insurance policy and what is covered is important - so that you know what you are liable for and what the insurance policy will pay for in the event of an incident. For example, damage caused by wear and tear or what is known as ‘gradually operating causes’ that happens over a period of time, will not be covered.  The Total Landlord claims team are happy to assist with queries if you are unsure of cover.

Emma Bracchi, Senior Claims Technician at Total Landlord

Find out the covers available under our polices and to obtain a quotation here.

What happens if you don’t have an inventory or schedule of condition?

If the property has suffered damage, you as the landlord are responsible for proving that it was the result of the tenant’s actions or omissions during the tenancy - and the only way to do that is with robust check-in and check-out inventories.

When it comes to tenancy deposit adjudication, the adjudicators work from the position that the deposit is the tenant’s money until the landlord or agent proves they are entitled to the amount they are claiming. So, without clear, dated, written and photographic evidence, you will be on the back foot in any negotiation.

In addition, if you want to make a claim for damage on your landlord insurance, it is much more likely to be successful and settled more quickly if you’re able to provide clear evidence of the condition at the start of the tenancy.

Does home insurance cover tenant damage?

Standard home insurance isn’t designed for rental properties – you need specialist landlord insurance that will provide cover, whether your property is vandalised, or damaged by a flood. Total Landlord’s Essential and Premier policies both cover structural damage to the building and our Premier policy also includes theft, accidental damage (to the building or glass/sanitary fittings), or malicious damage by tenants and their guests at no extra cost, giving you peace of mind that you are covered for tenant damage, be it by theft, accident, or malice. Our landlord contents insurance will make sure you’re not left out of pocket if anything happens to the furnishings in your rental property, but it’s important to make sure tenants are aware that they’ll need to arrange their own cover for their contents.

Landlord checklist: When and how to use an inventory

Download our landlord checklist for your guide on when and how to use an inventory.

Before your tenant checks in
  • Once the property has been cleaned and prepared for the tenancy make sure you protect yourself and your property with a detailed and quality inventory

At check-in
  • Go through the inventory with the tenant and walk through the property to make sure they agree with the contents and condition as recorded, or make sure that your messaging with a digital copy is ready for them to check and report any discrepancies during their first few days
  • Make sure opening meter readings are recorded on the inventory
  • Confirm that all the keys you give them are noted on the inventory and at some point they have signed to confirm receipt
  • Make sure that the tenant signs the inventory or a declaration to say they have received a copy so that if they want time to look through it, you can show they did receive it.
  • Sending the inventory by email will prove the same, and will be time and date stamped

After check-in
  • Make sure the tenant is sent a digital copy of the inventory, if not already sent or stored in the document file for them to log in and view

During the tenancy
  • Have a copy of the inventory when carrying out mid-term/periodical inspections so any differences, whether it is deterioration or damage, can be noted and, if necessary, discussed with the tenant

Pre check-out
  • Once you have a tenancy end date, best practice is to carry out a pre-end of tenancy inspection with the tenant, so they have every opportunity to make any necessary repairs and carry out the required cleaning before they leave

This works well for every agent that I have spoken to over the years. It can build trust between a landlord and tenant, who understands what they need to do to receive their deposit back and not be charged costs. Those that do not do the work needed and still dispute end of tenancy costs are in a weak position when it comes to adjudication.

Suzy Hershman, Resolution Department Lead, mydeposits

At the end of the tenancy

  • Arrange a convenient time for check-out with the tenant
  • Email the tenant a copy of the check-in inventory in advance (in case they have misplaced theirs) so they can review it and understand what they need to do before they leave
  • Check every room in the property against the check-in inventory for damage – including making sure all the electrical fixtures and appliances provided are still working – and discuss responsibility for the cost of any repairs
  • Take photographs of all damage and of any areas that have not been properly cleaned
  • Take final meter readings with the tenant and note them on the check-out inventory
  • Check that all the keys issued at the start are returned
  • Email the tenant a copy once it has been finalised, with photographs
  • If any end of tenancy costs are being proposed for damage or cleaning, and any negotiation is unsuccessful, send all inspection reports to the adjudication provider as evidence, along with details of your claim and supporting quotes for repairs

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