A Photo is Worth a Thousand Words… and $5,000

Written on July 2, 2014 by , updated on July 31, 2017

Proof Through Photos

“A photo is worth a thousand words.”

Beginning landlords need to learn this fact and seasoned landlords need to remember it.

There will come a time for every landlord when a dispute arises with a tenant over property damage. When that happens, detailed photos of the property are the best form of proof.

Documenting with Photos

To protect yourself with photos, follow these steps:

1. INSPECT PREMISE BEFORE MOVE-IN:

Take “before” photos of your entire rental property prior to a tenant taking possession. Include all interior rooms, fixtures, appliances, property exterior and yards, outdoor fixtures such as a pool, fountains, special landscaping, etc.

2. LABEL PHOTOS:

Label and date each photo appropriately.

3. SAVE FILES:

You can print the photos out, but you should also make sure the original digital files are saved on your computer or in the cloud for future reference.

4. INSPECT PREMISE AFTER MOVE-OUT:

Perform a move-out inspection of the property. During the inspection, take “after” photos of the entire property, making sure to take clear, well-lit photos of any damage.

5. CONSOLIDATE PROOF:

Many states allow a landlord between 15-60 days to consolidate a list of damages, make repairs, and then return the deposit.

6. DELIVER LIST:

Document the damages and send an itemized list and cost of repairs to the tenant. Save the photos as “surprise” proof if you need to go to court. The photos always throw them off because they don’t expect them. If the tenants have any intention of covering the cost of damages, they will do so prior to being taken to court.

What’s the Point?

Why go to all this trouble? If your tenant damages your property, what proof do you have?

It could be your word against theirs! Tenants might claim that the carpet was dirty and worn when they moved in, even though you had installed brand-new carpet.

If you have to take your tenant to court for damages to your property, you will need proof for the judge, as your word alone won’t mean much in a court of law.

A True Story

A landlord that I know had to file eviction papers against a tenant for nonpayment of rent and damage to the property.

In court, the landlord explained to the judge that the tenant owed two month’s rent and had caused extensive property damage. The judge turned and asked the tenant if he owed the money. The tenant responded that he owed two month’s rent but did not damage the property.

The judge then asked the landlord what kind of damages were being claimed.

The landlord replied simply by pulling out a stack of photos, selecting only the top four photos and handing them to the bailiff, who passed them to the judge. As she reviewed the photos, the judge’s face could not hide her disgust.

These are the most disgusting, vile photos I have ever seen.

Judge:I have heard many landlord-tenant cases over the years, but in all that time I have never seen photos like these. These are the most disgusting, vile photos I have ever seen. There are cat feces all over the room and overflowing the litter box. Did you do this?

Tenant:Yes, your honor, that is from our cat,” the tenant replied, truthfully but hesitantly.

Judge:Judgment for the Plaintiff in the amount of $5,000,” the judge stated quickly and firmly.

Case closed!

Lesson Learned

This is a true story, and the court session didn’t last more than 10 minutes.

Why? Because the landlord came prepared with photos.

If you want to save time and money, and win in court, take the time to capture thorough before and after photos. The photos say it all and will do the work for you!

The proof is in the photos!

Actual Photos:

Kitchen

Oven Before
Oven

Oven

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13 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Peter T. Pratt

    Looking at the two pictures of the range and adjoining cabinets, I cannot compare the two photos.

    The ranges are different; the cabinet layout is different. The fact that the counters are littered, they can easily be cleared – unless the top is damaged, which is not visible in the photo.

    I write as a landlord.

    • cathy

      Hi,
      Thanks for reading the article! The photos are to illustrate that a landlord may start with
      decent appliances and then end up with totally “trashed” appliances. The stove photos may have got mixed up but the point is, “Take photos before and after.” The messy counters require cleaning and in this case, the counter-tops were permanently stained. This has to come out of the tenant’s deposit. The photos will prove your damages every time!

  • linda moffett

    I am not a landlord but have managed rental property in the past. Everything Cathy Azar says is true. They talk like they will take care of the property and in the end most of the ones I dealt with ruined the apartment and we were lucky if they did not take everything nailed down. Very difficult to find good renters today.

  • sam

    LOVE IT.VERY IMPRESSED.WRIGHT ON TARGET.THIS IS A WELL ILLUSTRATED ONE. NO NEED FOR AN ATTORNEY,IT ALL THERE.LOOK FORWARD TO READ THE BOOK.

  • Kathy

    Definately take before and after pictures. Be sure to set your camera/phone to show the date they were taken. I had some photos of damage caused by a commercial tenant who claimed my pictures weren’t valid as they did not have a date printed on them. I perservered and eventually got my company’s money back. I have a rental of my own – a very nice condo. When I had to ask my 3 year tenants to move out they were not happy. They claimed to have cleaned the unit and said they hired a professional to clean the carpets. I gave them a complete list of everything I expected done on which every item was checked off by them. My idea of clean and their idea of clean are worlds apart and when I pointed out the grease, crumbs, dirty floors, carpets, etc. they told me I was too emotionally involved with my property and they had a professional cleaner tell them the place was up to par. So, I took pictures! The cleaners I hired to come in after the tenant had “cleaned” the place also took pictures! Needless to say, though they weren’t happy about it, I had no problem from the tenant with the amount I deducted from their deposit to which I attached an itemized list of what I had to do to get my condo back to rentable condition and how much it cost.

  • Martin Schuch

    I video tape the move-in inspection for two reasons: 1) I find it provides full coverage of the unit instead of the spot coverage that photos provide, plus 2) I always make sure that I get the tenant(s) in the video so that later, upon move-out, they can’t claim that the move-in video wasn’t of their apartment. Same process with the move-out.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Martin! Thanks for sharing. I’ve only just started recording the move-out inspection, and I can’t believe I didn’t start doing it sooner.

    • Lycia

      Okay, I am liking the video idea as I have already been taking the before and after pictures. Although my pics are not individually dated, the thumbnails are all printed together with a date at the top and filed. I am currently in the mode of getting all of the info together on a unit that was just vacated and the tenants are thinking they will be getting part of their deposit back, but they (along with their pets) did too much damage and left too much nastiness behind. I had planned on sending them the photos, but after reading this article, I realize that the surprise factor would be much better! Thank you for your ongoing teachings! I have learned so much, even after five years of hard learned lessons of my own as a landlord.

      • Lucas Hall

        Hi Lycia,

        Cathy did a great job on this article, and I too learned something. I never would have thought to save the pictures until the court date. However, I also have better things than go to court, so I try to prevent it if I can. I’ll still probably deliver most of the pictures in hopes that they don’t even start a court case. But then save the really juicy ones in case they do :)

        • Lycia

          True! I have no desire to drive 10 hours, just to have this heard in court, as I no longer live in the same state as my apartments. So, with that being said, if I send a few select pics to them, along with a list of costs, then that is still okay? This is the first time that I have been THIS prepared and I really do not want to blow it. I am tired of them trying to pull the wool over my eyes just because I am not on the property.

          • Lucas Hall

            Hi Lycia,

            Each state has their own requirements for deposit withholdings, although most require an itemized list to be sent within X days. I always think its a good idea to send any sort of proof too. It’s easy to argue a line-item, but it’s difficult to argue a picture and a receipt.

            Check out https://landlordology.com/state-laws to see what your state’s requirements are for sending a list of itemized withholdings.

  • Cynthia Sparks

    This is very true! Just won a trail dispute with my ex- tenant due to property damages. Thank goodness my husband took before pictures and I took the after pictures. At the trial, the pictures spoke more than words. The damages were my best witness to her damages. Judge granted all the charges in my favor. I always thought I had a good tenant until the day that she moved out and damages exceeded her deposit by 3k. Her defense was that broken door, broken widows, broken garage door, pet urine and stains in the carpet were “normal tear and wear” however the judge saw how dirty and careless was and I won judgment in my favor. Don’t think that because a tenant pays rent on time and keeps front yard good means they take care of the inside

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