The question of whether an item is a chattel or fixture has caused many disputes between vendors and purchasers. This issue arose during post auction negotiations on behalf of one of our clients.
The property had passed in and after a protracted negotiation a price had been agreed. We proceeded to sign the contracts when the selling agent on behalf of the vendor claimed that the stereo speakers which were fixed to the ceiling should be retained by the vendor.
In my view these speakers were clearly a fixture and should remain with the property at settlement, the contract did not mention otherwise. When the vendors made their claim the price had already been agreed so this was a very unfair request. Needless to say their request was denied.
So what is the difference between a chattel and fixture and how does this impact on the sale of a property?
There are two issues to examine in determing if a chattel has become a fixture. Firstly, if an item has been attached so that it is hard to remove without causing damage to the land, then the chattel is most likely a fixture. Secondly, what was the intention of the person who fixed the item to the land?
If an item has been attached for the purpose of a permanent improvement of the building it is most likely a fixture. In the case of the stereo speakers they were securely fastened to the ceiling therefore removal would have caused damage to the ceiling. Also, being securely fixed to the ceiling indicates they were intended to be a permanent improvement.
It is important to remember that fixtures come with the land automatically, but chattels have to be specified in the contract in order to become the property of the purchaser. If the contract does not mention that the purchaser is buying the chattels, then the vendor can remove the chattels from the property.
Typically the contract will state the chattels as “all curtains, drapes, light fittings and fixed floor coverings”. Buyers must be aware that sometimes a vendor will instruct the selling agent that their favorite light-fitting or whatever is not to be included in the sale of the property. This must be stated in the contract.