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The Law relating to Fittings and Contents – a Purchaser’s Guide

After completion, what items were to remain at a given property frequently proves to be a source of disputes between vendor and purchaser. Hence, it may be useful to set out the following key principles from the law relating to this area.  

 

After exchange of contracts, the vendor of a property is not permitted to remove any items from the property which the law regards as fixtures. If an item is classed as a fixture it must remain at the property. Conversely if an item is classed as a chattel, it may be removed from the property. To avoid arguments later as the whether a particular item is regarded as a fixture the vendor and purchaser should agree exactly which items are to be removed by the vendor and which are to stay prior to the contract.

 

It appears however that although how the parties choose to describe particular items can have some effect in deciding whether something is a fixture or not, this is not determinative (see 2 below). In answering the question of whether a particular item is a fixture, two issues will be considered by the Court:

 

  1. The degree of annexation of the object to the land: As a general rule, unless an item is physically attached (or to use the old fashioned term ‘annexed’) to the land, it will not be considered a fixture. For an item to be physically attached, its removal from the property must result in significant damage to either the property or the object itself.

 

  1. The purpose of annexation: The modern tendency is to place considerably more emphasis on this issue rather than the degree of annexation test. The manner in which ornaments have been put up in buildings has changed over the years such that generally less disruption is now necessary to remove a given object than was formerly the case. In the leading case of Leigh v Taylor [1902], a tapestry attached by tacks to a wooden frame was held to be a chattel rather than a fixture as the purpose of its attachment was to enable it to be enjoyed as an ornament rather than to enhance the building.

 

In a later key case of Berkley v Poulett (1976), the essential question was considered to be whether the purpose of annexation in respect of a picture was for it to be enjoyed as a picture or to enhance the structure of the building. Put another way, the mere fact of how workmen chose to solve the problem of how pictures should be fixed to the walls of a property was not decisive in determining whether they could legitimately be viewed as chattels or fixtures.

 

The law as stated above can be seen to be far from clear cut in this area. We at PLS would therefore advise both purchasers and vendors to agree in as much detail as possible prior to exchange of contracts,what items are to be included in the agreed fittings and contents list.

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