By Law Teacher
THE LAW ESSAY PROFESSIONAL
1. Introduction to Land Law
Land Law focuses upon the uses and supply of land. It looks to facilitate how an owner of land may use it or moderate how others do so; this relationship can develop into ‘interests’ in the land. This module will examine the different interests that a person may have in land and how the law seeks to resolve conflicts through statute, common law and equity.
Land law impacts upon many facets of our day-to-day living, it determines: the difference between what is property and what is land; who owns property in the land; who may have access to land; your rights to land as a tenant, and; what you can do with your land. Land law is unusual in that you can own it outright but still be limited in how you can use it. There are many reasons for this such as agreements reached by a previous owner or because you failed to notice how the land was used when you purchased it. As such, land law is heavily governed by how your neighbours interact with land and what you could have been expected to know.
Ultimately, land law is looking to determine what interests there are in the land and therefore what a person can do with the land. These interests can be impacted depending on whether the land is registered or not registered. Beyond owning an interest in the land, less obvious interests can also come in the following forms:
- Minor and Overriding interests
- Equitable interests
- Leases & Licenses
This module is also looking to establish how these different interests interact.
2.1.1 Fixtures and Chattels – Introduction
Welcome to the second lesson of the second topic in this module guide – Chattels and Fixtures! Deciding whether an object is a fixture or a chattel is important to discover whether the item is considered as part of the land, and as such will pass with it.
At the end of this section, you should be comfortable applying the common law principles and tests to objects in order to establish what on land constitutes a fixture or a chattel. This section begins by defining a chattel and fixture in more detail, before introducing the two-stage gravity test in Hellawell v Eastwood. Miscellaneous details and academic commentary is covered here, before the first stage of ‘physical annexation’ is discussed in detail. The section then breaks down the second part of the test; ‘Purpose’, with more academic commentary and miscellaneous scenarios discussed.
Goals for this section:
- To be able to decide whether an object is a chattel or a fixture.
Objectives for this section:
- To be able to cite and apply the two stage test with regard to chattels and fixtures.
- To appreciate how physical annexation is described and defined in the case law.
- To understand how intention can affect an object’s status as fixed or personal property.
2.1.2 Fixtures and Chattels Lecture
What are fixtures and chattels?
A fixture is any item that is included as part of a conveyance of land (that is, where land is given from one party to another, and such an exchange includes all of the rights and obligations over that land) according to s.62 of the Law of Property Act 1925. This means that when a portion of land is sold and there is something defined as a fixture within the confines of that land, then that fixture will be owned by the person who takes ownership of the land as a whole.
By contrast, a chattel is a physical object which is separate from the land, and thus its ownership is independent of who owns the land. It does not change hands upon a conveyance of land.
The Test and Miscellaneous Issues
Two-Stage Test aka the Gravity Test
The central question comes down to a two-fold test, as devised in Hellawell v Eastwood(1851)155 E.R. 554. In this test, the court must consider:
- the degree of annexation: the extent to which the item has been attached or annexed to the property, and
- the purpose of annexation: the purpose for which the item was attached to the property.
The same test was reiterated and put forward in Elitestone Ltd v Morris  1 W.L.R. 687 by Lord Lloyd of Berwick.
In looking at stage 1), we can say that the greater the degree of attachment or annexing is to the property, the more likely the item is considered to be a fixture.
The result of an item being a fixture is that the person who owns it is whomever owns the land. Thus, a fixture can have a former owner; that is, someone who used to own the land (and thus the fixture), but now does not own the land, and therefore does not own the fixture. This is such an abiding principle of fixtures that former owners are prevented from retaining ownership even if they take active steps to do so: for example, in Aircool Installations v British Telecommunications  C.L.Y. 821, if the former owner inserts a retention of title clause into the conveyance of a fixture, such a clause is null and void.
It is more often the case that the distinction between fixtures and chattels is not a dispute around the sale of a property. Instead, it is more likely to form part of a dispute between lenders (mortgagees) and borrowers (mortgagors) after the borrower has missed payments on their mortgage. Here, the lender is considering whether they can sell the property along with certain items in the property, such as household appliances. (Botham v TSB Bank plc).
Physical Degree of Annexation
Given there is almost no statute in this area, and in each case the status of physical objects have been determined on the facts of those particular cases, there is no single means of assessing whether the physical object has been annexed to the land.
There is a kind of gravity test (though to be clear, you won’t find that term used in the case law!) which suggests that an object is a chattel if it rests upon the land merely by the force of its own weight. Applying this rule of thumb to an example, a chair that is not fixed to the floor would be a chattel.
So between two cases, where the objects are the same or of a similar type, yet they are set down in different methods, there will be a different result. In Hulme v Brigham  K.B. 152, heavy printing machinery that were unattached to the floor were held to be chattels, whereas in Holland v Hodgson(1871-72) L.R. 7 C.P. 328 the spinning looms were bolted to the floor of a mill and so were held to be fixtures.
For other examples, in Aircool Installations v British Telecommunications  air conditioning equipment was bolted on to, and cut in to, the walls of a building, and they were held to be fixtures. By contrast, in Botham v TSB Bank plc kitchen appliances that rested on the floor of the kitchen merely by their own weight and without any means of bolting to the floor were held to be chattels, even though they were connected electronically and were integrated into the kitchen.
Deemed purpose of Annexation
However, it is not necessarily the case that an item which is bolted down is intended to be a fixture, and such a lack of intention would mean the item was not a fixture (Potton Developments Ltd v Thompson  NPC 49, ChD). Intention will usually be gauged by inference, and communication between the parties.
This intention must be made known between the parties. Lord Cockburn observed in Dixon v Fisher(1843) 5 D 775 that no person ‘can make his property real [ie belonging to the land] or personal [belonging to himself] by merely thinking it so.’ The question is whether the installation of the object would in ordinary circumstances have been intended to be a permanent accretion to, or improvement of, the land or if it is only a temporary addition to the building or landscape (Botham v TSB Bank plc).
The gravity test is a relevant consideration when deciding if an object is a fixture or a chattel, but if there is sufficient contrary intention to make them a fixture, then the objects are deemed to be fixtures, notwithstanding that they can be removed without damaging the land.
Intentions can also render an object a chattel: if an item is affixed to a surface, yet the intention of the party who installed it was merely to facilitate enjoyment of the object (rather than to have the object provide value to the land). If use of the object was unnecessary for the use of the land, and the use of the object was simply to enjoy using the object, then the item may be deemed a chattel (Elitestone Ltd v Morris).
Generally, the only party which is entitled to remove a fixture is the freeholder, so if anyone is in occupation or possession of the property, they cannot remove it except with the consent of the freeholder (Elitestone Ltd v Morris).
However, over time, the court has come to recognise an exception to this rule and to allow a certain group the right to remove fixtures. This right to remove fixtures is extended to tenants. It is recognised that tenants will want to install items on their property and would use those items, but that item is intended to be used by the tenant for, among other reasons, their trade. Therefore, the court has come to recognise that there is a difference between ordinary fixtures and “tenant’s fixtures.”
If a tenant installs an object therefore, the question is whether the object was to be used for a specific purpose. Therefore, the question becomes whether the item annexed to the land is present on the property for the purposes of the tenant’s trade or is for ornamentation or utility. If the item can be removed without it losing its usefulness, then it will be defined as a chattel. If however the property has to be installed on the land in order for it to be used (meaning it is useless without being installed), then it will be a fixture (Webb v Frank Bevis  1 All ER 247). Examples of items which would be fixtures are doors, windows, and chimney pieces. This is so even if the tenant installed them.
Tenants and Right to Remove
Tenants have the right to remove fixtures during the course of their lease. They may even be required to do so, such as in the case of redundant equipment. Failing to do so may expose the tenant to a breach of the conditions of their agreement with the freeholder. The terms of the lease can also modify or exclude this right to remove fixtures.
If a lease is intended to restrict the right of a tenant to remove the tenant’s fixtures, then the lease must make that intention clear: the court must be confident that the language of the lease is unambiguous and express about that intention, otherwise the court will not uphold a term which excludes the right to remove fixtures (Peel Land and Property (Ports No 3) Ltd v TS Sheemess Steel Ltd  EWCA Civ 100).
Unlike in other case law, in agricultural fixtures comprehensive guidance is found in the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. These statutes are primarily concerned with the rights of tenants of agricultural lands to remove fixtures and buildings. These statutes recognise that fixtures of farm land can be of immense value to the owner.
2.1.3 Fixtures and Chattels Lecture – Hands on Example
The following questions are designed to test your knowledge about the core tests regarding fixtures and chattels. The answers to the questions can be found at the bottom of the page, however you are encouraged to attempt to answer the questions first based on your own recall or notes of the topic before looking at the answers.
Always think about the relevant principles, the cases, and what the outcome will be based on how those principles and cases apply to the question.
One of the first challenges in an exam is to recognise that the question you’re being asked is about fixtures and chattels. So by applying this step-by-step approach, you should be able to tell if it is a fixtures and chattels question.
As a quick aide-memoire, you will be on the right track if you remember the following steps:
- What is the item in question?
2.Applying the first part of the two-stage test, is it something that has been fixed to the land by use of some other object(s), such as being bolted down? Has work been done to the surrounding land in order to accommodate the object? If the answer to these questions is yes, there is a greater degree of annexation, suggesting it is a fixture.
3.Alternatively, is the item simply sitting on the land by gravity alone, meaning there is nothing attaching it to the land? Could it be removed without damaging it or the land? If the answers to these questions is yes, there is a lesser degree of annexation, pointing towards chattel.
4.Now look to the purpose of the item. Looking again at the kind of item that it is (examples include statues, kitchen appliances, stuffed animal displays, air conditioning equipment, greenhouses), is it intended to either:
a.Improve the value of the land, or
b.Simply be enjoyed by itself?
5.When answering question 4, ask if these factors outweigh the degree of annexation.
6.Finally, when you have decided if it is a chattel, remember who it therefore belongs to.
Q1. Albert has long lived at Blacklodge, but is now moving home. He wants to keep a sofa that he had bought some time ago, and had kept in the living room to enjoy the view outside his window. He never thought to nail it down. However, the buyer has indicated an interest in the sofa at their offer of purchase. It is of relatively high quality and the buyer thinks it could add value to the place.
Q2. Bethany is a tenant of Conglomerate Corporation which owns the freehold to Whitelodge. She has become interested in pottery as a trade and has installed equipment for that purpose. Bethany is not staying long at Whitelodge, and Conglomerate Corporation indicates it wishes to retain the pottery equipment after she leaves. Conglomerate says it included a clause in the lease which prevents her from removing anything that may be used for pottery. Conglomerate agrees that the wording of the clause is unclear.
Q3. Darren has a collection of expensive family portraits at Greenacre. They are placed strategically throughout Greenacre. They have to be fully extended to be seen and so are pinned to the wall. Darren now wants to take the family portraits with him when he moves. The buyers of Greenacre want to keep the valuable portraits which are of historical as well as personal value.
Q4. Ella is a keen gardener, selling whatever she grows, and recently installed a greenhouse at Redacre. When first installed, it sat on a concrete plinth, the plinth resting on a base, and that base in turn sits on the ground. Due to its manner of installation however the concrete plinth had to later be affixed to the base. Removing the greenhouse from the base could cause damage to both. Falling behind on her mortgage payments, the lender may repossess Redacre, and has taken an interest in the greenhouse.