Terms and definitions: What is an inventory?

UK law requires that any deposit taken from a tenant must be secured in a recognised government deposit protection scheme. It serves as a way to assure compensation in the event of damage or excessive cleaning to the landlord’s property during the course of the tenancy. But how can it be demonstrated what condition the property was in at the beginning of the tenancy? In order to thoroughly describe the items protected by the security deposit, it is necessary to create an inventory.

An inventory is a list of all the furnishings, fixtures, and other items associated with the tenancy, completed at the onset of the tenancy, often with the tenant present. It can be as terse or as detailed as you wish it to be; there are no set requirements. However, an effective inventory will contain as much detail as is needed to protect you as a landlord in case of a property dispute. Further, recent legislation such as the Deregulation Act 2015 for preventing retaliatory eviction make it even more essential to fully document the contents of each room in the property.

You’ll want to prepare the inventory before the tenant moves in and revisit the inventory on the day the tenant moves out. Most templates will ensure both these checks happen on the same document. It’s always a good idea to walk through the property and point out all features in the presence of the tenant so that they sign the document with this knowledge.

Anything that could suffer damage within the property should be included within the inventory. This includes structural features, furniture, and other objects in the property. The following is a list of items a complete inventory might include.

Walls. Note the current condition of the walls and check for any existing holes, scratches, or torn wallpaper.

Doorways. Look for scratches, cracks in windows, and verify that the keys work in the locks smoothly.

Meter readings. It’s a good idea to note the current readings of all meters; this also serves the purpose of showing the tenant where the meters are located.

Lights. This includes overhead lights, lamps, and bathroom lighting. Ensure these turn on properly and note the condition of the bulbs.

Floors and ceilings. Note the type of flooring, look for scratches or holes in carpeting, and check for marks or dirt on the ceiling.

Appliances. This includes refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, etc.

Windows. Check for cracks and scratches. Also note the existence and condition of blinds and drapes.

Keys. The inventory should include any keys that were given to the tenant before starting the tenancy.

External areas. Include any other aspects of the property, such as sheds or garages, and inspect each thoroughly for damage.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive and each property is different. Take your time and make sure everything in all rooms is covered. Use a proper template or hire the services of a professional if you want to make sure everything is accounted.

Tips to make an effective inventory

Group items by section—hallway, bathroom, kitchen, etc. This will make it easier to complete the inventory as you are walking through the property.

Always make two copies of the inventory, one for you and one for the tenant, and ensure each is signed and dated.

If it’s impossible or otherwise impractical to meet with the tenant to conduct the inventory, one option is to do it virtually, with the tenant on the other end of a Zoom call while you walk through the property.

Consider adding a section that outlines provisions for visits, setting up regular checks on the property and its fixtures (this could also be included in the tenancy agreement).

Complete the old inventory and conduct a new one each time the lease is renewed.

Take photographs to accompany each section and attach them to the document.

The tenancy agreement should also make explicit reference to the inventory as a legal document.

When it comes to disputes regarding cleaning or repairs, a thorough and detailed inventory, signed by both you and the tenant, is the best way to protect you and your property from a dispute and potentially forfeiting the tenant’s security deposit. This legal document is not one to be ignored, and taking the time to itemise and describe all fixtures and furnishings in the property both before and after the tenancy will protect both you and your assets from jeopardy.