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When you rent a property through a letting agent, an inventory is one of the most important documents to be compiled before you move in – just as important as a tenancy agreement. Understanding exactly what an inventory is and what it should contain is vital, especially when it comes to getting your deposit back at the end of a tenancy.

What is an inventory?

An inventory is a highly-detailed document that describes the condition of a rental property before a new tenant moves in. The document can be paper-based or digitally produced, and it will contain written notes, photographs and in some cases, video footage.

Whoever is performing the inventory will visit the rental property to make a thorough assessment. When renting via a letting agent, they are likely to send a professional clerk from a specialist company to compile the inventory, although the letting agent or landlord can also complete this document. 

The person conducting the inventory will work through the property room-by-room, and will also examine hallways, gardens and any outbuildings too. As well as looking at the condition of walls, carpets and ceilings, they will also look at fixtures (kitchen cabinets and bathrooms basins, for instance); fittings (such as shower heads and taps); furniture (anything that is being left on a part or furnished basis); supplied appliances (ovens, hobs and extractor fans included) and cosmetics (including the condition of paintwork, plaster and woodwork).

Damage, such as cracks, dents and holes, will be noted in the inventory but aspects including limescale, watermarks, mould, dust, litter, stains and scuffs will also be recorded, backed up with photographic evidence.

These 8 must-know inventory facts will help you prepare ahead of a new tenancy.

1. Inventories offer tenants protection

And inventory is the only way a property’s condition can be accurately recorded and recalled in the future. Without a tenant having proof of how a property was handed over to them, disputes can be difficult to resolve - there will be a lack of evidence and a ‘your word against mine’ scenario. Resolution services can rule in a landlord’s favour if there is no inventory, leaving tenants out of pocket if they end up paying for damage they can’t prove wasn’t their fault. 

2. The timing of an inventory is crucial

From a tenant’s perspective, you’ll ideally want the inventory performed in the hours before you move into a property and definitely not weeks before. Inventories performed too early leave the tenant liable for any damage that took place between the inventory being signed and the tenant moving in – damage the tenant won’t actually have inflicted but will be held accountable for.

3. The inventory may be worthless without signatures

Both the landlord (or the letting agent working on their behalf) and the tenant should sign the inventory document to agree that it is a fair and accurate representation of the rental’s condition. It is especially important to get the landlord’s signature on the inventory – failure to do so may render the document invalid when used as evidence in the event of a dispute. Tenants should ensure that the address and the date on the inventory is correct - small errors could be used against them in the event of a dispute.

4. Tenants can commission their own inventory

It is not a legal requirement for an inventory to take place so if you come across a letting agent or a landlord who doesn’t offer an inventory before you move in, it is wise to commission your own report. Instructing a specialist third-party inventory company to create the inventory ensures a fair and unbiased document. At this stage, it’s also worth double checking what tenancy deposit scheme the landlord or letting agents is using. Don’t forget, a tenant can compile their own inventory in addition to the one provided by the landlord or agent. This can be self-produced or generated by booking one of the independent clerks listed here.

5. You can request to be present

An inventory doesn’t have to be behind closed doors. In fact, if you have any concerns of the impartial nature of validity of the process, ask to be present. This allows you to see for yourself the property’s condition, double check what is recorded in the inventory and sign the document on the spot, if you are satisfied. There is no harm in taking your own notes and photos while there, so it’s worth asking to attend.

6. Deposit returns hang on an inventory 

If you are using a traditional cash deposit to reserve a property, a landlord is usually more than happy to return a tenant’s deposit in full if the property is handed back exactly as it was found. It’s worth remembering that a deposit is taken so a landlord can pay for repairs and replacements out of the deposit to cover damage caused by the tenant – this is known as a deposit deduction. If unfair deductions are proposed at the end of tenancy, a tenant can use the inventory to prove whether the damage was already present when they moved in. 

7. Always flag up new or worsening issues 

An inventory will also show if an existing problem has got worse during the tenancy, which could be the fault of the landlord if they failed to solve an ongoing issue. This is why it’s crucial to email your landlord and/or letting agent as soon as you see any deterioration in the condition of the property, such as a watermark that’s getting larger, ensuring this is done in writing to your landlord and/or letting agent. It’s also wise to raise the alarm if new problems arise during your tenancy, such as mould or cracks.

8. There are usually two inventories

On the day your tenancy ends, a second inventory usually takes place – sometimes referred to as a final inspection or a check-out procedure. As with the timing of the move in inventory, the gap between vacating and the move out inventory taking place should be as short as possible. It’s also advisable for tenants to attend this final property check, taking along a copy of the first inventory. This allows tenants to accurately compare the condition of the property with what’s on record and it gives them grounds to question what’s being noted. Again, both a tenant and a landlord need to sign the move out inventory.

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