The importance of evidence in property inspection reports for the private rental sector is well-established. Without check-ins, check-outs and interim checks some of the key terms in the tenancy agreement could be rendered unenforceable.
Evidentiary documentation of the condition of a property and its contents enables a fair apportionment of responsibility, giving protection and certainty to landlords and tenants alike.
There is however no prescribed format for a report, either in law or in practice. Industry professionals rely largely on their experience in deciding what to look for and how to describe their findings.
The guiding principle for anyone tasked with an inspection of the property, a vital contribution to inventory property management, is thoroughness.
That in itself is a notion that provokes different opinions. When are the demands of thoroughness met? When are they exceeded in ways which are counter-productive and unhelpful? When does being thorough cross the line into intrusiveness, irrelevance, or a simple waste of time and money?
At Inventory Base we are very conscious of this conundrum.
We provide property inventory software to make the life of professional inventory clerks as easy as possible in what can be a complicated and often under-valued service.
But even the most sophisticated software is only a tool, and effective reporting will always depend on the judgement of individuals carrying it out.
One of the contentious issues in this field is photographic evidence.
This is important and potentially troublesome in different ways for landlords and tenants, so it is worth considering it from both sides of the relationship.
For the tenant, the experience of having the property inspected can feel stressful enough without seeing an entire library of photos being taken. This after all is their home and their privacy must be respected.
When taking photos an inventory clerk should always be sure to get the tenant’s general agreement, avoid photographing any personal items and explain why they are taking particular shots if the reason is not self-evident.
The purpose of an inspection
It is not to catch the tenant out but to conduct a fair and reasonable assessment of conditions in a spirit of cooperation.
It can be tempting for inventory clerks to feel that, as long as they have enough photos, they have adequately covered everything. But it is a mistake to rely so heavily on photographic evidence, when it is the explanation and interpretation of the visuals that matter.
Every photo needs its inclusion to be justified and have a specific purpose.
For both the landlord and tenant, a report that is stuffed with hundreds of photographs will be an unwieldy document. They are unlikely to spend time poring over every detail provided because there is simply too much to work through. This includes photos of the same feature taken from several different angles or poorly framed or blurred pictures – all will be of little or no use.
The sheer quantity of visual evidence could actually have a detrimental effect because vital information could be overlooked in a blizzard of pictures that simply dilute the readers attention and ends up in a drawer somewhere which then totally negates the whole point of an inspection!
A scatter-gun, ‘shoot everything’ approach to an inspection can be self-defeating.
Another extremely important consideration is what happens should a dispute arise about the responsibility for loss or damage, one which cannot be settled between the parties.
The only recourse in this situation is to refer the case to an adjudicator, where some of the same problems can either be sorted or indeed, new ones arise.
When preparing a property inspection report it is essential to remember that at some point it may cross the desk of someone whose job it is to assess the merits of contested claims based largely on its contents and accuracy.
At Inventory Base we hear of tales of frustration when reports are overflowing with pictures but with very little detail or lengthy, shakily shot videos of inspections. It’s enough to make anyones heart sink!
A point to note here: adjudicators will only rule on the evidence in front of them so it must all be relevant.
Providers must be mindful of the fact that adjudicators are likely to take a dim view of being effectively asked to do someone else’s job by having to sift through huge numbers of images in order to decide on the evidence.
Decisions on what is needed in an inspection, the format and how it is then produced should always be made before the report is submitted as evidence so think carefully when deciding on the format and information to be included in an inspection report.
Apart from the quantity of pictures in an inspection, there are two main issues to consider:
- the quality of the photos
Looking at the second of these first, the obvious takeaway is that if you take photos with an automatic date stamp there can be no question as to their validity. But they are often called into question when a dispute arises.
Getting a tenant to sign a couple of hundred photos is asking for rather a lot.
Inventory Base software automatically date and time references pictures and provides tenants with the ability to sign, comment on and add their own pictures into the report.
This takes the strain out of referencing and signing for hundreds of pictures, provides the vital evidence both adjudicators, landlord, agents and tenants need to be able to rely on the facts presented.
Clerks don’t need to be the next David Bailey!
No one expects the inspector to be a skilled photographer, however there are basic standards that should be maintained so that the quality of the evidence is irefutable.
Photos should be crystal clear (no blurry shots). They should be specific and prove beyond doubt what they are showcasing as evidence, when used to provide context, indvidual damage or when itemising appliances and serial numbers.
So remember to take your time, ensure what you are looking to evidence is photographed in a clear and unambiguous way that so anyone else can pick up your report and say ‘yes, I get it’.
Ultimately, the photos in a report are merely supporting evidence and cannot replace a comprehensive, clearly written inventory. It is very tempting to place the onus on the photographic evidence, but this is not the way to compile a professional report.
A picture may be worth a thousand words in some contexts, but in the field of inventory reports it might also raise a thousand questions and fail to answer any of them.