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Fixtures and chattels

 
 
Chattels are items of personal property. It is a principle of land law that any chattels attached to land, become part of the land and are known as fixtures. This is expressed in the Latin maxim quicquid plantatur solo, solo credit (whatever is attached to the soil becomes part of it). It is important to distinguish between fixtures and chattels as this will affect ownership rights of the items. A fixture will always belong to land owner whereas a chattel may belong to another. It is especially important to distinguish fixtures from chattels when there is a transfer in ownership of the property. Any items that are fixtures will belong to the transferee. If it is a sale of the land, the ownership of the fixtures transfers as soon as the contract of sale is binding and the seller can no longer remove these items from the property. Another time when it is highly relevant to know if items are fixtures or chattels is when a tenant attaches his own items or those belonging to another (See Hobson v Gorringe [1897] 1 Ch 182)  to the property. This would transfer ownership to the landlord and the tenant is not entitled to remove the items at the end of the tenancy. Also at times, the courts have been required to determine if dwellings are chattels or fixtures to determine if tenants are protected by the Rent Acts:
 
 
 
 
Mew & Anor v Tristmire Ltd [2012] WLR 852      Case summary
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fixture or chattel?
 
 
Attachment
 
 
Where a chattel is physically attached to the land this will prima facie indicate that it is a fixture:
 
 
Holland v Hodgson (1872) LR 7 CP 328      Case summary
 
 
However, physical attachment is not always conclusive the courts will take into account both the degree of annexation and object of annexation. The operation of this test can be seen in:
 
 
Leigh v Taylor [1902] AC 157      Case summary
 
 
D'Eyncourt v Gregory (1866) LR 3 Eq 382    Case summary
 
 
Berkley v Poulett (1977) 241 EG 911          Case summary
 
 
 
Botham v TSB Bank (1996) 7 P & C R D 1     Case summary   
 
 
The degree and object of annexation test can give different results where the items under consideration are the same as can be seen with the treatment of cinema chairs in the following cases:
 
 
Lyon & Co v London City and Midland Bank [1903] 2 KB 135     Case summary
 
 
Vaudeville Electric Cinema v Muriset [1923] 2 Ch 74       Case summary
 
 
 
The subjective intention of the parties will not affect the question of whether a chattel has become a fixture:
 
 
 
 
Dixon v Fisher (1843) 5 D 775     Case summary
 
 
Re De Falbe  [1901] 1 Ch 523    Case summary
 
 
A contractual agreement conferring a right to sever the chattel does not prevent the item forming part of the land whilst it remains fixed:
 
 
Melluish v BMI (No. 3) [1996] AC 454   Case summary
 
 
 
Chattels resting on land
 
 
Holland v Hodgson (1872) LR 7 CP 328     Case summary
 
 
Jordan v May [1947] KB 427    Case summary
 
 
Hamp v Bygrave (1982) 266 EG 720    Case summary
 
 
D'Eyncourt v Gregory (1866) LR 3 Eq 382   Case summary
 
Berkley v Poulett (1977) 241 EG 911    Case summary
 
 
Buildings & Dwellings
 
A shed:
 
Webb v Frank Bevis Ltd. [1940] 1 ALL ER 247     Case summary
 
A Bungalow:
 
 
 
 
 
House boats:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Right to remove fixtures
 
 
Owner of the land
 
The owner of the land may sever any fixture whenever they wish and the item will return to its status of a chattel.
 
 
Vendor of the land
 
The vendor of the land may sever fixtures up until the contract of sale becomes binding. At this point the ownership of the land including any fixtures transfers to the purchaser. Consequently after this time the vendor can not remove any fixtures.
 
 
Tenants
 
Where a tenant attaches their own personal property to the land, this becomes a fixture and the property is then the property of the landlord:
 
 
R v Smith [1974] QB 354  Case summary 
 
 
 
 
However, there are exceptions to this:
 
1. Ornamental and domestic fixtures:
 
Spyer v Phillipson [1931] 2 Ch 183    Case summary
 
2. Trade fixtures:
 
Smith v City Petroleum [1940] 1 All ER 260   Case summary
 
Young v Dalgety plc [1987] 1 EGLR 116   Case summary
 
Mancetter Developments Ltd v Garmanson Ltd [1986] QB 1212   Case summary
 
3. Agricultural fixtures
 
The right for a tenant to remove agricultural fixtures is conferred by s.10 Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.
 
 
 
Where a tenant is entitled to remove a fixture there is a duty to make good any damage:
 
 
Mancetter Developments Ltd v Garmanson Ltd [1986] QB 1212  Case summary
 
 
Re De Falbe  [1901] 1 Ch 523    Case summary
 
 
 
Ownership of chattels found on land
 
 
Chattels found under the surface of the land belong to the landowner:
 
 
Elwes v Brigg Gas Company (1886) 33 Ch D 562    Case summary
 
 
Waverley Borough Council v Fletcher [1995] 4 All ER 756   Case summary
 
 
Unless they are items of treasure trove under the Treasure Act 1996:
 
 
Where chattels are found on the surface of the land, which are not treasure trove and the owner can not be found, the finder has a better title than the land owner:
 
 
Bridges v Hawkesworth (1851) 21 LJ QB 75    Case summary
 
 
Hannah v Peel 1KB 509   Case summary
 
Parker v British Airways Board [1982] QB 1004   Case summary
 
 
 
Unless the land owner exercises sufficient control and the finder is a trespasser:
 
 
 
Hibbert v McKiernan [1948] 2 KB 142   Case summary
 
 
 
 

Fixtures and chattels