To mark the beginning of 2016, we're launching a new series of blog posts to help landlords and letting agents better understand the type of evidence the adjudicator looks for if there's a dispute. We're kicking off the series with advice on an essential piece of evidence in the majority of disputes: a properly completed inventory.

In deciding any claim against a deposit for issues such as cleaning, damage or dilapidations, all parties to a dispute are entitled to rely upon reasonably detailed check-in and check-out reports as being key documents recording the condition of the property at the start and end of the tenancy. A comparison of such reports should show if the property's condition deteriorated during the tenancy and so identify a tenant's liability. Without reasonably detailed check-in and check-out reports it can be extremely difficult to justify deductions from the deposit, because it is much harder to prove the extent to which the property's condition deteriorated between the start and end of the tenancy.

We've highlighted five mistakes which landlords and letting agents commonly make when submitting an inventory as evidence:

1. An inventory which is not contemporaneous

The inventory provides a snapshot of the property at the time it's compiled. If there is a gap in time between when it's compiled and the start of the tenancy, it can leave room for argument about how accurate the report is. Even if a property has remained vacant in the interim period, it could, for example, have become dusty or the garden could have become untidy. So, to be considered reliable as evidence, the inventory should be dated as close to the tenancy start date as possible.

2. Not having the parties agree to the inventory

The tenant usually demonstrates their acceptance of the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy by signing and dating the inventory. Best practice dictates that the tenant should be present at check-in and check-out, but we recognise that this isn't always possible or practical. If a tenant is unable to attend the check-in, we recommend the report should be provided to them with a disclaimer stating that they have a specific time frame to make any comments and give it back to the landlord or agent. If the copy is not returned then an email should be sent to the tenant confirming that the inventory has not been received back and the original document is now accepted as is.

3. Not enough detail in the inventory

Inventories should include every item in the property as all items could be subject to becoming damaged or in some way requiring to be attended to at the end of the tenancy. The items that tend to not be considered are, for example: kitchen units, handles, doors, door entry systems, woodwork, skirting boards, light fittings, window coverings and poles, switches, bathroom fittings, shower screens, boilers, windows, etc. Another area that can be missed out is gardens and outside items such as garden furniture and gardening equipment, garages (including doors) and sheds. The level of detail is key: if it may be claimed for at the end of the tenancy, it should be included in the inventory at the start.

4. No description of the cleanliness of the property

Condition and cleanliness are considered to be different things: for example, a bath seal could be in good condition because it's intact and doing its job, but it could be black spotted and dirty. A check-in report that only considers the condition of the property does not establish the standard of cleanliness at the start of the tenancy. If a landlord wishes to claim for cleaning issues at the end of the tenancy but the check-in report comments only on condition, the adjudicator will be unable to determine if the property's cleanliness has deteriorated during the tenancy. You could either list each items' cleanliness against the specific item or it may be easier to have an overarching clause that covers the contents of the whole inventory. In this clause you could take the opportunity to mention the cleanliness of the windows inside and out as well as if the property is free from odours.

5. No explanation of abbreviations

We see many reports which use a large number of abbreviations to describe the condition of a property or an aspect of its condition. Where abbreviations are used, an index of them should be provided for reference. Remember that not everyone uses the same abbreviation to mention the same thing. For example, we have seen 'GC' as meaning 'generally clean' as well as 'good condition' - neither of which are the same thing.

We also have a full range of disputes guidance documents on our website, including case studies of real disputes and the evidence submitted.