The accidental landlord learns the importance of a full inventory

The accidental landlord is stunned by a tenant who summons her to give the oven a good scrub...
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A tenant who moved into my flat three months ago has called to ask me to clean the oven. I kid you not. Perhaps she would like me to empty her bins while I’m there, or maybe I should whizz round with the vacuum cleaner.

She says the oven is kicking out a lot of smoke, so she has worked out that there must be some burnt-on fat on the built-in grill. I point out that keeping appliances clean is her responsibility, not mine.

She then tries to claim that the grill must have been dirty when she moved in — she protests that she has hardly used it since, so she isn’t to blame.

This is one of the reasons why landlords must have an inventory at the start of every tenancy that not only lists all the furniture, fixtures and fittings, but also details the condition of the property and all of its contents.

It doesn’t have to be prepared by a third party — you can do it yourself if you’ve got the time, but you should make sure the tenant signs it to say they accept that it is an accurate record.

I have known landlords who don’t bother with inventories when letting unfurnished places, but you do need to have some written or photographic record of the general condition of a property and the state of all the white goods, which are usually included, even in the case of an unfurnished let.

And tenants must check the inventory, rather than just assuming that everything is as it should be. I know it is tedious to go round a property ticking everything off the list, but even the most forensic report prepared by a professional inventory clerk will almost definitely contain a few mistakes. I have found they always overlook something.

Also, as far as I’m aware, inventory clerks don’t turn on appliances to test they are working properly. They might wipe a finger over a grill to check it has been cleaned and they usually look inside washing machines and dishwashers for mould, but that’s about it.

I had my flat professionally cleaned before the tenant moved in and the inventory, which was prepared by a third party, didn’t note any problems with the oven. However, I can’t swear that there wasn’t any fat on the grill left by the previous tenant, because I didn’t actually stick my head in there to inspect it.

With hindsight, I should have turned the oven on, and all of the other appliances too, to make sure they were all fine. I will make sure I do that in future.

However, I find it hard to believe that if the grill was dirty when the tenant moved in, it would have taken her three months to find out. I think she is trying it on, and I can’t help
wondering whether she would have dared to ask for someone to be sent to clean it if the property had been managed by an agent.

A few years ago, when I first started letting my flat, I would have rushed over with protective gloves and an oven cleaner, and scrubbed it until it sparkled.

But time has made me tough, and I have learned that once you start to run around after tenants, it’s hard to stop. You accidentally give them the impression that you are responsible for everything.

So, this time, I email my tenant a copy of the inventory, which she had signed, as proof that the oven was clean at the start of the tenancy, and suggest the solution to her problem is to keep it that way.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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