Inventory issues are one of the most common reasons for tenancy disputes. When the condition of items at the start of a tenancy are not well documented and there is dispute at the end, how does the tenant or landlord protect himself? The tenant might have replaced an expensive Samsung television with a cheaper brand but the inventory check-in only documented that there was a television. The landlord may want to charge the tenant for repainting the walls or repolishing the flooring when the condition of the walls and flooring was already bad at the start of the tenancy.
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Most of the onus of protection lies with the tenant since he has his security deposit at stake. If there is a dispute at the end of the tenancy and the landlord withholds the security deposit for repairs, the burden of proof lies with the tenant to show that the issues highlighted at the inventory check-out were due to fair wear and tear or otherwise.
During the inventory check-in, the check-in report is usually done by the landlord’s agent. However, it is important that the tenant reviews the check-in report in detail and highlight any discrepancies. If there are any items which might lead to a future dispute like wall stains or flooring scratches, it is essential that you insist that the agent take photos and document the issues with the check-on report. The inventory check-in report and the photos should then be shared with the landlord for his concurrence and signed by the tenant and the landlord or his agent.
In most cases, the tenant also has 1 month from the start date of the tenancy to highlight any further defects which were not captured in the initial check-in report. These defects should also be well documented by all parties and rectified by the landlord depending on the severity.
Other issues highlighted during the tenancy term should be well documented and highlighted to the landlord’s agent. Simple repairs under the tenancy agreement threshold of between $100-$300 should be done by the tenant. If the repair costs more than this threshold, the landlord’s agent should be informed to get the landlord’s approval for the proposed repair. This is important because certain items may have been replaced or repaired during the tenancy term, making the inventory check-out report not comparable with the initial check-in.
During the inventory check-out with the landlord’s agent, it is important to clarify all repair items at the same time. The tenant should agree on the repair costs that can be taken off the security deposit, if any. Any issues highlighted after the inventory check-out should not be entertained.
If the tenant is unable to come to an agreement or the landlord unreasonably withholds the security deposit for more than 14 days after the tenancy end date, the tenant may file a claim under the Small Claims Tribunal or seek other legal advice depending on the circumstances.
Even if the landlord is not conducting the inventory check-in, it is essential that he goes through the inventory check-in report and any relevant photos in detail. He should clarify all doubts from the onset because it is possible that the agent resigns during the lease term, leaving the landlord in the lurch.
Make it a policy for the tenant or the agent to inform you of all repairs, big or small during the tenancy so that you are aware of all changes.
During the inventory check-out, get quotations for all relevant repairs for the tenant’s concurrence before deducting the relevant amount from the security deposit. This should be done 14 days from the end of the tenancy so that the remaining security deposit can be returned to the tenant.
Although it is true that a tenancy dispute is not really the agent’s responsibility, it will put the agent in a difficult position or make him lose credibility by not getting involved because both the tenant and landlord will expect the agent to take their side.
The best course of action is to perform the most detailed inventory check-in report possible, documenting items with photos to prove the condition. Changes that happen during a tenancy should also be documented. If there is a dispute at the end of the tenancy due to inventory issues, at least the agent can fall back on the photos and descriptions to compare the condition of disputed items at the start and end of the tenancy.
In this case, the agent does not need to take sides and can rely on the facts documented in the inventory reports or photos.
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