Are Photos Worth A Thousand Words During Inventory Checks?

Photos-Property-Inventory-NoLettingGoWhether you are a landlord or a tenant, letting inventory services in the UK are an essential part of property rental. The idea of an inventory is to catalogue the contents and condition of a property recording details of the home and any items that are included in the tenancy. The compiled report is then used as part of the legally binding contract between landlord and tenant preventing disputes over possible damages between both parties and aiding in a smooth transition from one tenant to the next.

Over the years, inventory reports have traditionally been compiled in writing, text still rules the roost; however, as technology advances and many people now have access to cameras in smartphones and tablets, there are an increasing number of landlords incorporating photos into inventories. There is an old saying that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and it’s hard to argue with this; but, can this saying really be applied to property inventory in the UK?

Finding the right balance

A picture can add a lot to an inventory, and photographs of large areas of damage such as holes in doors, carpet burns, and damage to worktops will go a long way in building a solid case against a tenant. However, when it comes to providing the perfect inventory report, a photo is only worth a thousand words if the right balance is found.

According to the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC), an overseer of excellence in rental inventory services in the UK, photographs are being used more regularly in inventories. However, they are at the expense of written descriptions and this is leaving landlords exposed to costly disputes with tenants over damage.

In many reports, the AIIC has found that photos no bigger than thumbnails are being used as evidence. Naturally, with a picture being so small, detail is hard to see. Photographs of a decent size and quality though, can be very useful and many of today’s modern smartphones have the capability to produce detailed images.

Only quality photos will do

NoLettingGo-Inventory-ReportThe comprehensive nature of inventories means that it photos must only be provided if they are backed up by a written presentation. The most common disputes between landlords and tenants are over small damages, such as chips in cupboard doors, scratches in sinks and baths, and knife marks on worktops. Such damages, while minor, can result in financial losses for landlords and tenants if negligence cannot be proved and a photo alone is often not sufficient evidence as details are so fine.

In order for property inventory services in the UK to help landlords win disputes for either side in a rental agreement, it is essential that photos are of a high quality and printed in A4 or even A3. In addition to this, the photo should be dated on camera and only be used to make up part of a written report.

The written inventory may still rule the roost, but the use of photos is definitely here to stay.

Photo source: Paul Reynolds

How a landlord should prepare to go on holiday

Landlord-on-holiday-nolettinggoSummer is here which means its holiday time and a chance to escape the daily stresses and struggles that come with being a landlord. While they may be stereotyped as being a serious bunch, landlords like to have fun just like everybody else, and a summer holiday is one of the few times a year that they get to swap that stern expression for a smiley one. However, being a landlord means that it’s not possible to just pack a suitcase of leave; you have a duty of care to tenants and thorough preparation is needed before embarking on a well-earned break away from the UK. Property inventories need to be taken care of, tenants need to be informed of your plans, and contacts need to be arranged before you even think about which swim trunks to pack.

If you are a landlord planning a holiday, here are a few steps you need to take to ensure everything runs smoothly in your absence.

Notify your tenants

The first thing you will need to do is notify your tenants that you will be away. You never know what is going to happen to a property in your absence and there is a chance that your tenants may need to contact you. It is best to give tenants as much notice as possible that you are going to be away and provide them with dates, contact details, and emergency contact details in writing. Send all letters to tenants by recorded delivery so that you can be sure they have received the information.

Arrange an emergency contact

landlord-responsability-on-holidayYou owe it to yourself to distance yourself from work as much as possible and, while you should always remain contactable, it is best to hand over responsibilities to someone that you trust. Whether that happens to be a family member or a friend, ensure that they have everything needed to deal with every eventuality.

When your emergency contact is running things in the UK, property inventories, rental agreements with new tenants and pre-existing repairs should all have been taken care of before you leave. Provide your contact with the following list of items:

  • all keys to all properties, garages, units and lock-ups
  • contact details for all tenants including names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses
  • money to pay for any unexpected bills (i.e. any emergency repairs that need to be carried out)
  • a list of contractors that you regularly use in case of emergency repairs
  • details on how you can be contacted (i.e. phone number, email address, hotel details).

You should also personally take your contact to each rental property and show them how to access and turn off water, gas, and electricity in the event of an emergency.

There is a lot of work that goes in to having a relaxing holiday as a landlord, but if you want to forget about rental inventory services, UK tenancy deposit schemes and rental agreements for just two weeks of the year, you have to prepare. Remember, failing to prepare is preparing to fail – do not give your tenants reason to disturb your holiday!

Photo sources: commons.wikimedia.org – Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New Landlord Emergency Cover Launched

Leading providers of let property cover, Total Landlord Insurance, have just added Total Landlord Emergency Cover to their portfolio of insurance products
designed specifically for landlords.
Total Landlord Emergency Cover is a cost-effective insurance product that provides immediate assistance in the event of a domestic emergency at a rental
property.
The policy provides cover 24 hours a day 365 days a year for call out charges, labour and repairs for emergencies such as the breakdown of the heating system, plumbing and drainage problems.
Broking Manager, Steve Barnes, said: “Domestic emergencies at landlord’s rental properties can be inconvenient and sometimes difficult to resolve. It is not just boilers that go wrong, plumbing, drains and lost keys can cause inconvenience for landlords. At just £70 per property we feel that this policy represents excellent value for money and provides reassurance for both landlords and tenants that emergency assistance is only a phone call away. Introductory discounts are also available for limited period”.
Total Landlord Insurance will also be extending their range of landlord focussed products to include Rent Guarantee insurance and Tenant Referencing soon.

Steve continued: “Our customers are at the heart of our business and we will be adding more products and services to our website to provide landlords with a one stop solution for their insurance needs”.

For more information on Total Landlord Emergency Cover go to www.totallandlordinsurance.co.uk or call on 0800 63 43 880.

Large deposits make inventories more important than ever

This article up from Property Drum by Operations Manager for ARLA, Ian Potter, further highlights how critical inventories with schedule of condition report have become.

With such large sums of money at stake, ARLA has called on tenants and landlords to consider the benefits of establishing a comprehensive property inventory check upon the commencement of a new let.

Ian Potter, Operations Manager of ARLA, said, “Deposit disputes can be one of the biggest problems for both parties involved in any rental property, and many potential issues can be avoided if a professional inventory is prepared.

“A licensed letting agent will offer you the best advice on checking to see if an existing inventory is available or whether any extra charges are invoked in drawing up a new document. A true inventory is not simply a list of items in a property – it also includes a description of the condition and cleanliness at the start and finish of the tenancy, enabling one to be compared against the other with clarity and accuracy.

“Photographs are a good support for comments made in a written inventory but should not be considered a replacement for the written word. Photographs which are unsigned and undated generally are not worth the effort, so make sure they are accepted at the outset and again at the check-out stage.”

Ian Potter said, “A well put-together inventory can give both landlords and tenants peace of mind throughout the occupation period. The inventory is not designed to catch tenants out, but rather to ensure both parties are in agreement over the quality of the property being rented.

“If conducted correctly, and agreed by both tenant and landlord, an inventory should form a key point of reference for any deposit-return queries or issues over reported damage. In recognition of the importance of inventories ARLA has its own sub division, the Association of Professional Inventory Providers, whose members have passed an accreditation exam as well as having a Code of Practice to follow.”

For Professional Inventory Management Services throughout the UK talk to No Letting Go, APIP members, who can provide all inventory management services including Inventory, Check In, Propert Visits and Check Outs with full dilapidations reports. Contact us on 0800 8815 366 or contact one of our local offices at www.nolettinggo.co.uk/contact

Unpaid rent and filthy tenants – Latest Student Landlord Survey 2011

With student market nearly upon us, New Student Publications carried out an interesting straw survey on Student Landlord Problems

Different categories were addressed covering areas from unpaid rent to cleanliness issues.

Unpaid rent, filthy tenants and panicking about filling your properties for next year?

The results were astounding, with over 14% of landlords saying that their current biggest problem is just finding tenants to take their properties and fill in any gaps should someone drop out during a contract, with more than 2% feeling like they are struggling just to get viewings. One agent simply said “we have unlet properties remaining for July 2011, the situation is worse than in previous years” In a similar 2009 survey finding tenants was also the biggest problem raised by landlords.

Dirty Tenants

Landlords cited dirty tenants as their second biggest problem, with 16% left to pick up massive cleaning bills, or called out at 4am to change a lightbulb. The general consensus was “students don’t take care of the property or make any effort to keep the house clean.” 3.5% of agents thought that students demanded a much higher standard of accommodation than ever before, although it seems that tenants are unwilling to take out contracts for a full twelve months, with one landlord struggling to get even shorter terms “the majority of people contact me to rent for one or two months.”

Pressure From Pupose Built Halls

Many of the landlords surveyed said that they felt increased pressure from new purpose built student villages found in many city centres; more than 8% of those surveyed would eradicate those villages if we gave them one wish! 2% of landlords are afraid that their properties were not close enough to ‘hotspots’ and so would soon be abandoned in favour of more central locations.

Unpaid Rent

11% of businesses struggle with unpaid rent, while 2% note that this messes with their cash flow and although some are sympathetic to the issues caused by the Student Loans Company, most are fixed on the bigger picture; “a lot of time is spent chasing payment. Students seem to think that it is not always necessary for them to pay their rent.” This coupled with tenants excessively using all inclusive utilities means that businesses are less profitable. One landlord’s wish was simply that we could ‘undo the recession’ as 8 different landlords complained of increases to the cost of maintaining their properties to a decent standard.

Relax Regulations

Bogged down with HMO paperwork and expense? Over 18% of those surveyed would love to change or relax the regulations and the council powers to control them. One landlord stated; “there should be a national guide for HMO legislation.” Some landlords feel so strongly about HMO licensing that they named specific city councils or even actual councillors as their biggest fear for the future. 3 landlords said they had qualms about council schemes to shift populations from one area of a city to another, and how it would affect their business.

Worries Over Tuition Fee Increase

Landlords are worried about the tuition fee increase, with more than 14% saying that if they had one wish, they would fight the fees and leave the system as it stands, a worry which probably contributes to 13% of them saying that they feel the future of the market is uncertain, as some students may choose to stay at home to study. Competition from the university owned housing is a headache too, with 4% saying an increase in that sort of accommodation would be detrimental to their ability to let.

Problems With Advertising

Landlords raised the issue of advertising, when to do it and how the culture of marketing lets so early can damage the business, with nearly 5% of landlords thinking there should be a guideline that means property is marketed in January and not before. 4% thought university accommodation offices charged them too much for advertising, and 5% would like to see cheaper, and more effective advertising available to them.

Deposit Protection Unfair

Some landlords were concerned that the existing Deposit Protection Scheme did not offer them enough scope to reclaim money for damage to their properties. Eight separate landlords would like to see the entire system revised, with 1% of those surveyed listing it as their biggest problem. A case from the survey highlights the DPS’s flaws; “£1500 worth of damage but ex tenants refuse to give consent to DPS to pay the landlord.” And some feel that from a legal standpoint the law does not protect them, 3% of landlords would like to see more legislation to protect the financial interests of the landlord.

Worries Over The Potential Drop In Student Numbers

And what of the future of the student property market? More than half of those surveyed were very worried about the potential drop in student numbers next year, with one landlord summing up the problems this will create; “if student numbers drop because of the £9,000 a year course fees then we might see empty houses, lower rents or both.” A worry shared by 3% of those surveyed, who fear the contraction in the market will mean a forced reduction of rents, while other suggested offering shorter term contracts or starting to appeal to the housing benefit market was the only way to keep the business afloat.

No Problems At All

But this isn’t the full picture. Almost 9% of those surveyed have no major problems with the lettings market, their tenants or filling their properties. One landlord is more than happy with his tenants; “we enjoy our students. We pride ourselves in helping them learn how to care for and run the house. We regard them as ‘professionals-in-training’ and teach them what they should reasonably expect from a landlord and what they should reasonably do as a tenant.” One respondent would use a magic wand to change the public’s attitude towards students; “they tend to live in larger houses that are too big for modern families and therefore almost act as guardians for some of our most impressive architecture. They should be seen as a positive part of any community.”

 

Top 5 biggest fears for the future Number of responses Percentage
Fewer students in the future 101 54%
Student villages 15 8%
Legislation increasing workload 15 8%
Unpaid rent due to fees 10 5%
Universities moving into market 8 4%
Top 5 current biggest problems Number of responses Percentage
Bad tenants 51 13.6%
Uncertainty for the future 49 13.1%
Finding tenants 48 12%
Unpaid rent 41 11%
HMOs 17 4.5%

No Letting Go are working with a number of student letting agents and bodies around the UK to help protect both landlords and tenants from many of the issues arising from cleanliness and deposit protection. Better use of Inventory services, checking tenants in, property visits and managing the check out is critical to ensuring that potential problems are dealt with in advance and issues arising from check outs are dealt with quickly and efficiently. Contact No Letting Go on 0800 881 5366 or find your nearest office at www.nolettinggo.co.uk

Compiled by Emma Parker New Student – Student Housing Magazines – www.newstudent.co.uk

Latest Guide on Deposits, Disputes and Damages

 

Read the Latest Guide on Deposits, Disputes and Damages from all 3 Deposit Schemes
By Nick Lyons, Managing Director No Letting Go

All three deposit schemes have released an information document on managing your deposits, with advice on what is required (or not as the case may be) and clarifying some of the many questions that arise with regards protecting your or your clients properties.

http://www.nolettinggo.co.uk/A-guide-to-deposits-disputes-and-damages.pdf

If you need any advice or wish to get an inventory with detailed schedule of condition, check in, property visit or check out carried out please contact one of the No Letting Go offices throughout the UK at www.nolettinggo.co.uk/find-your-local-office

Landlords flock to purchase rental insurances

The uptake of HomeLet’s new tenant reference, Optimum, which guarantees to remove the tenant if they fail to pay the rent, is up 150 per cent on projected sales figures. With inflation and unemployment rising the popularity of this product has been attributed to growing concern of rental arrears.

Commenting on the news HomeLet MD, John Boyle explained, “Naturally we’re pleased with the uptake of our new ‘Optimum’ reference, we developed this product specifically to counter the concerns of both our letting agent customers and their landlords. With rents remaining high conditions are particularly hard for tenants at the moment. The latest statistics make for grim reading; inflation is way up on the Bank of England’s targets and unemployment is continuing to creep upwards. These and other factors sadly mean that 2011 will be a tough year for many tenants’ which is obviously a major concern for landlords, who are also facing these difficult conditions.”

According to the latest Residential Lettings Survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors strong tenant demand resulted in rents rising rapidly in the three months to the end of January. Figures released by the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that number of new mortgages lent to house buyers slumped by 29 per cent in January when compared to December. With lending likely to remain low throughout the year, demand for rented property is likely to push rents up further in 2011.

Matt Billingham, Owner, Billingham Cooke Estate Agents said, “Demand for high quality rented property is only going to increase in 2011. In many areas across the country tenants are already bracing themselves for an expected increase in rents. For many a rise in rents whilst inflation is so high will only increase the pressure on their budgets and many landlords are starting to realise that a service, which provides an element of cover should a tenant fail to pay the rent, is essential.”

Commenting on Optimum, Sara Bailey, Manager, Aquarius Homes said, “More landlords are asking for a service that also offers to protect their investment income. We’ve seen a number of traditionally safe tenants who’ve passed their references with flying colours fall on hard times, especially with the cuts in the public sector. This is a real concern for landlords, especially reluctant landlords or those with highly geared investments.”

John Boyle concluded, “Following the credit crunch, housing agency Threshold reported an increase in threatened or actual cases of illegal eviction. Evicting a tenant can be a difficult, costly and emotional process, and landlords shouldn’t take matters in to their own hands.

“When they’re covered by Optimum, through their local letting agent, our in-house Legal and Claims department take care of everything whilst ensuring that tenants are treated fairly and that every letter of the law is followed when obtaining vacant possession of a property. We also offer a range of products that provide missed rental payments as well as legal cover.”

Source: Property Drum Newsletter

Lettings firms expelled by Property Ombudsman

Two lettings firms, one in London and the other in Torbay, have been expelled by The Property Ombudsman scheme.

Madisons of 7, Odeon Parade, 468, London Road, Isleworth, was expelled for failing to pass on rent it had collected and for mishandling tenants’ deposits.

However TPO is required under the terms of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007, to maintain Madisons’ registration for sales activities.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council considered a number of complaints where Madisons collected rent and did not pass it on.

When the matter was referred to the Ombudsman he determined that the rent should be paid over to the landlords, and that compensation be paid for breaches of the TPO Code of Practice for Letting Agents in the firm’s general failing to provide a service consistent with fairness, integrity and best practice. In one case, although the rents have now been paid, the compensatory award made by the Ombudsman has not been met.

“This has been a sorry and frustrating business for both Madisons’ clients and TPO,” said Gerry Fitzjohn (right), vice chairman of the company operating TPO.

“It concerns us that while we can expel their lettings business from the scheme we have no option but to continue registration for their sales business until the Office of Fair Trading bans the agent.

“In the meantime, it is our duty to make the public aware of the situation regarding Madisons.”

The second firm to be expelled is Torbay Residential Lettings (TRL), of 49 Market Street, Torquay.

The firm had breached several aspects of the TPO Code of Practice for letting agents by not co-operating with the Ombudsman’s investigation, not paying the award made by the Ombudsman after he had found the firm had not registered the tenants’ deposit, failing to complete a proper check-out process, and failing to provide an appropriate form of tenancy agreement.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council, in deciding to expel TRL also noted that one of the directors of the firm had been jailed for three years in January, 2010, for child cruelty and perverting the course of justice.

The remaining director considered that the dispute being decided upon by the Ombudsman was not the firm’s responsibility because the complaint arose from the actions of the jailed director. The DSC took the view that this was not relevant and the firm was liable to meet its obligations as a TPO member.

“Such behaviour is unacceptable,” said Gerry Fitzjohn. “Our scheme’s primary purpose is to resolve disputes between agents and consumers but we also aim to raise professionalism and insist on certain levels of service. Where these are not met, we make it clear that an agent is no longer fit for membership and recommend the public take notice of this.”

Published in Jungledrum, Property Drum. March 2011

Who wins the deposit disputes – tenant v landlord

TDS state that the following percentage awards (in terms of deposits held) were made during 2010

Percentage of awards made to tenant – 56%

Percentage of awards made to landlord – 42%

Percentage of awards made to agents – 2%

The lack of landlord generated accurate paperwork seems to still be a problem.

TDS: Top 3 causes of deposit disputes

TDS state that in 2009/10 the top three causes of disputes were as follows:

Cleaning – found in 46% of complaints

Damage – found in 29% of complaints

Redecoration – found in 24% of complaints