The definition of a fixture is sometimes subject to heated debate, however in general terms the law considers a fixture as something that is permanently fixed to the property/land and therefore is deemed to form part of it. Fixtures will therefore include things like buildings together with anything that is permanently attached to it. If something is secured in place by anything other than its own weight, it is highly likely to be considered as a fixture. A chattel on the other hand and hardly surprisingly is the exact opposite, being something that is easily removed and therefore cannot be considered as permanent. Chattels are therefore generally considered as temporary and easy to move (although there a number of exceptions to this, which will be considered later). Before proceeding it is worth clarifying that the law considers ‘tenant fixtures’ in a very different way to other types of fixtures. For the purposes of this article I will not be discussing tenant fixtures, which is a topic I will save for a future article.
Property is usually bought and sold under a contract which therefore allows the buyer and seller to come to whatever agreement they want in respect of fixtures and chattels. Where this agreement is lacking, whether by ignorance or wilfulness and a dispute ensues the parties will sometime go court in order to resolve the dispute. Under the doctrine of judicial precedent the courts in the UK are bound by decisions made in similar previous cases so it is worth looking at some previous cases to help us to understand how the courts decide what is a fixture and what is a chattel.
In the case of Berkley v Poulett (1976) a dispute arose relating to whether certain items sold at auction were deemed to be fixtures and therefore formed part of the property/land or whether they were chattels. The items in question were some pictures fitted into panelling in a wall and in the garden, a heavy marble statue resting on plinth and a sundial. The Court of Appeal considered the test used in Holland v Hodgson and concluded that the pictures, although fixed to the wall were chattels as ‘they were put on the walls to be enjoyed as pictures, rather than with the intention of making them part of the land’. The statue was also not attached to the land, but was placed on a plinth that was attached to the land. The Court concluded that the plinth formed part of the land, but the statue did not, because there was no evidence that the statue was designed as part of an ‘architectural scheme’. The sundial was also determined to be a chattel, because it had been detached from its pedestal many years earlier.
If we contrast the case of Berkley v Poulett with the case of D’Eyncourt v Gregory (1866) we can see how the courts arrived at a different decision for similar items. In this case a sundial was also held to be a chattel rather than a fixture, however, in the garden, statues, figures, vases, and stone garden seats that were part of the architectural design of the grounds were deemed to be fixtures, whether or not they were attached to the ground.
In most property transactions the question of whether something is a fixture or a chattel is relatively straightforward however in instances where this is bought into question it is worth being aware that there is precedent for determining this and resolving disputes. As stated above, in a future article I will tackle the issue of ‘tenant fixtures’, where we will find that the law differs from that stated above.
Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested
Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.