The Paletz Law Blog

A Landlord’s Pictures Can Be Worth a Tenant’s Thousand Words

August 23rd, 2018 | By: Rachel R. Dornbush, Esq.

The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is applicable to many situations, including the relationship between a landlord and tenant. The importance of a landlord keeping photographic records of their property cannot be understated, as these photos can often assist in resolving tenant disputes.

Inherent in the landlord and tenant relationship is that the property is fit for habitation. Some states, like Michigan, also provide for an inventory checklist, which is completed by the tenants to document any alleged imperfections existing at the time of move in. If a landlord also has photos of the premises showing its condition at the time the tenant took possession, this can help to negate any bogus allegations made by the tenant, should any later arise.

It is generally required that a landlord maintain the property in reasonable repair during the tenancy. The term “reasonable repair” is not usually expressly defined and is therefore open to judicial interpretation, which will vary by jurisdiction. As such, landlords should be mindful of this when addressing a tenant’s repair request. Also, because a tenant often raises a landlord’s alleged failure to maintain the leased premises as a justification for their own failure to pay rent, photos documenting a completed repair can help to overcome this issue.

Aside from paying rent, tenants have additional obligations under the lease agreement. When a violation occurs, the landlord can take legal action to enforce the lease or terminate the tenancy. Photographic evidence of these violations can go a long way in proving one’s case.

Perhaps though, the most important time to take pictures is at the end of the tenancy when it comes to the disposition of the security deposit. It’s common for the landlord to collect a deposit from the tenant at the beginning of the relationship, which is held as security for the tenant to uphold their obligations under the lease. Most states allow a landlord to retain the deposit at the end of the tenancy for a number of reasons, which could include when a tenant fails to pay rent or to reimburse the landlord for actual damages caused by the tenant.

Because tenants sometimes dispute the retention of the deposit, it is imperative that landlords take photos documenting any physical damage in addition to retaining receipts for the supplies and invoices from contractors used for repair. If legal action is commenced to retain the deposit and collect any additional monies due under the tenancy, the photos often can be the best evidence of the damage done by the tenant and to support the landlord’s claims.

The Bottom Line: Photos are important at all stages of a tenancy. Having procedures in place for when photos of the rental premises are taken can aid a property owner both in court and in some cases, can facilitate negotiation to avoid litigation. When words aren’t enough, pull out your camera phone and let the photos do the talking instead.

The information contained in this article is only meant to be a basic overview and should not be construed as legal advice. Readers should not act upon this information without the advice of an attorney. The contents are intended for general information purposes only and may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication or otherwise be disseminated without the prior written consent of Paletz Law.

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