Can pictures replace the written word?
According to Pat Barber of the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC) “a glossy inventory that relies heavily on photographs will be of little use in a dispute.”
You won’t be surprised to hear that digital visual media continues growing in popularity amongst agents and landlords; it makes perfect sense when you can fit a thousand photos on a piece of plastic smaller than your credit card. Although those images might be perfect for glossy advertisements, when it comes to images for inventories, a lot more diligence is required. Adjudicators at the Tenancy Deposit Scheme take a similar view to Pat Barber - visual records can be very valuable in supporting written evidence, but they can rarely replace the written word.
Put yourself in the position of an adjudicator. You’ve never seen or visited the property before, and you only have the evidence presented to you to assess. When that evidence comprises mainly photos, what are you looking for? What do they show? How do you know when or where they were taken? An adjudicator won’t just make assumptions. If the photos and videos are not accompanied by written evidence the chances are those questions can’t be reliably answered and an adjudicator cannot confidently make any award to the agent or landlord.
But photos and video evidence can be of great help. Only a small number of tenancies end in dispute (less than 2% in the case of tenancies registered with TDS) and if you have records which the tenant can’t argue against you may avoid the need for TDS adjudication entirely. To get the most out of what visual records have to offer, they need to be strong in their quality and reliability.
To ensure photos are reliable and verifiable evidence it is ideal if the tenant is present at the check in and check out when they are being taken, and that they sign and date the photos and report alongside the person compiling it. Even if they aren’t present, they should still be given the photos and documents to sign and date – you don’t want a dispute to be just one word against another, so this way you can confidently show that both parties are in agreement on the condition of the property at the start. Photos and videos are particularly useful for properties with a garden, as it can help distinguish nature taking its course from tenants taking liberties.
If you do submit visual evidence in a dispute, the adjudicator needs to know exactly what they are looking at, so the photos should be well labelled; e.g. “large brown coffee stain next to the coffee table in the lounge”; and they should be either embedded in the relevant section of the report or fully referenced in an appendix.
It's likely that you won’t have taken a specific photo of something which the tenant subsequently damages and this is where videos can be particularly useful, as they can encompass the entire property much more easily.
Of course, every dispute is judged on its own merits, and photos and videos will be more useful in some cases than in others. But these photos show one of the rare and undesirable occasions when a photo really is worth a thousand words…
The TDS provides a large amount of guidance on all aspects of deposit protection and disputes. See Use of photographs, videos and DVDs,
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