When is a wall not a wall? Fixtures and fittings
The recent case of Peel Land and Property (Ports No.3) Ltd v TS Sheerness Steel Ltd provides a useful reminder of the distinction between fixtures and fittings, a topic that has plagued property owners, lawyers and the judiciary alike for many years. Although this case doesn’t make new law, it does provide a helpful summary of the law relating to fixtures and fittings and confirms that the answer to the question posed above is that a wall is not a wall when it is a stack of stones.
While a fitting remains personal property, due to its ‘annexation’ to the land, a fixture becomes real property. To complicate matters, however, some fixtures can be detached at which point they will lose their status as real property and revert to being a fitting. In order to deduce the nature of an item, case law has led to the development of two tests, which, while they seem simple in theory, are not always easy to utilise. The first test considers the method and degree of annexation to the land; the second the object and purpose of that annexation. Early case law placed a great deal of importance on the first test, which can be summed up by asking firstly whether the item is fixed to the land and if so how firmly, and secondly what damage will be done by its removal. The answers to these questions will provide an indication as to the nature of the items in question. In order to draw a more definitive conclusion, however, consideration has to be given to the reason for annexation, by ascertaining whether the intention of annexation was to better enjoy the land or the item itself.
If an item has been affixed with a view to effecting a permanent improvement to the land, then the likelihood is that it is a fixture, particularly if the item cannot be removed without serious damage to, or destruction of, part of the land. This is not to say, however, that an item that merely rests on the ground anchored by its own weight cannot still be a fixture, if the purpose of it resting where it does is to better enjoy the land, rather than the object itself. If, on the other hand, the annexation to the land is designed to facilitate the enjoyment of the item itself, then it will remain a fitting (even where there is a relatively high degree of physical annexation)…
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