Inventories – Video Evidence
In the digital age, we ask the question of tenancy deposit scheme expert Tom Derrett; “is it’s worth landlords gathering video evidence in support of their written property inventory?”
Tom provides Property Hawk users with the inside track on how a Tenancy Deposit Adjudicator views the use of video evidence in tenancy deposit disputes & tips to using video technology successfully.
Video Evidence – how useful?
Video footage and video property inventories are increasingly common as evidence in deposit protection disputes. As video becomes more accessible in modern times a lot of people are asking questions about how useful it actually is. Video evidence is considered admissible by the schemes and adjudicators will view it, but how much weight is placed on it depends very much on the quality of the video in question.
Chief Executive of My Deposits view
Eddie Hooker, Chief Executive of My Deposits recently stated that “a well put together video can really enhance the check in and check out process” and I would tend to agree. A clear video record of the condition of a rental property at the beginning and at the end of the tenancy can provide conclusive proof of whether the damage in dispute occurred before or during the tenancy, which is what you need to provide in a deposit dispute. Mr Hooker goes on to caution against relying on video evidence in isolation. I regard video as an extremely useful tool, but would recommend that it be used in conjunction with a written record of the property and that, akin with all evidence, steps be taken to show the date of the video, and to obtain the tenant’s agreement that it is a fair representation of the condition of the property.
Video evidence can prevent damage
There is anecdotal evidence that video inventories provide such a good record of the condition of the property that they actually prevent damage from occurring in the first place. Some landlords claim that once tenants have seen the video inventory from check-in; they realise that they will have no leg to stand on in a dispute. There are even reports of student tenants doing a spring clean before interim inspections and of damaged items being replaced or repaired by the tenant before check-out. Whether or not these isolated incidents are indicative of a trend, presenting your tenants with a video inventory when they move in certainly looks professional and gives the impression that you mean business when it comes to the security deposit.
Fair wear & tear
One of the most difficult aspects of damage to a landlord’s property is deciding what constitutes ‘fair wear & tear’.
Assessing whether damage is fair wear and tear is a matter of deciding how severe the damage is in the context of the property. I consider that high quality video evidence is particularly helpful in arriving at a balanced evaluation.
People get very hung up on proving the date and forget that ADR services and small claims courts employ the civil standard of proof, which is the balance of probabilities. A recording featuring the day’s newspaper, or even a statement from an independent inventory clerk should be sufficient to tip the balance in the absence of other evidence.
As I understand it, time codes on video are very hard to fake, as they are on every frame, unlike a photograph, which just needs five minutes in photoshop.
I do recall a case where the date of a video was in doubt. The party alleging fraud submitted no evidence to support the allegation, and the video evidence was admitted.
A bad video may be of no or little use
A badly made video, on the other hand, may be of very little use to you in a dispute. I have been on the receiving end of several very poor examples of video evidence that did nothing to advance the landlord’s case and I can highlight several potential pitfalls for the ‘would be video recordist’. For example, be very careful about the format of your video evidence. Your movie might play perfectly well on the version of Quicktime, Media Player or whatever video software you have installed on your computer, but can you be certain that it will play on the standard, basic PC set up provided in most offices? If in doubt, stick to a universal format that will play on an ordinary DVD player.
Use a decent quality video camera
Another common mistake that people make is using the video record function on their digital camera or on their phone. If the job is worth doing, it’s worth using a proper video camera. Phone and still cameras have narrow lenses, and cannot record wide angle shots of walls, ceilings and floors in context and in focus, which is what you will need as evidence for a claim on a protected deposit. The best evidence allows adjudicators to freeze frame and zoom in on relevant parts of the image. Accurate zoom is best on high definition footage and is impossible on shaky, out of focus recordings.
Highlight the relevant part of the video
Remember that adjudicators are only human, and you will win no favour submitting the best part of a hour of video without giving any indication of which part is relevant to your claim. Telling the adjudicator to fast forward to a certain point is useful, but breaking your footage down into the different rooms is much more helpful, as it permits the adjudicator to examine different elements of your claim at leisure.
Video evidence is worth doing, but only if done properly
In conclusion, video evidence may well be worth investing in as it has the potential to save landlords a great deal of time and money, both by winning or preventing deposit disputes and by cutting down the amount of damage caused to rental properties; however, producing videos yourself, that are of sufficient quality to stand up in court or at adjudication, could involve significant outlay on technology and developing advanced skills as a camera operator.
See more in the Landlords Bible on preparing a property inventory.
See more useful posts from Tom Derrett on how to win in tenancy deposit disputes.