Berkely v Poulett: CA 1977

The court discussed the duties of a vendor to the property between exchange and completion: ‘These duties and rights [of a purchaser] arise from the contract of sale and it is because of their existence that the vendor is said to be a constructive trustee, or a trustee sub modo, of the estate for the purchaser from the time when the contract is constituted. But to say that it is the duty of the vendor as trustee for the purchaser to care for the property is to put the cart before the horse and may lead you into error. He is said to be a trustee because of the duties which he has, and the duties do not arise because he is a trustee but because he has agreed to sell the land to the purchaser and the purchaser on tendering the price is entitled to have the contract specifically performed according to its terms. Nor does the relationship in the meantime have all the incidents of the relationship of trustee and cestui que trust. That this is so is sufficiently illustrated by the fact that prima facie the vendor is until the date fixed for the completion entitled to receive and retain the rents and profits and that as from that date the purchaser is bound to pay interest. And you may search the Trustee Act 1925 without obtaining much that is relevant to the relationship of vendor and purchaser. Thus, although the vendor because of his duties to the purchaser is called a trustee, it is wrong to argue that because he is so called he has all the duties of or holds the land on a trust which has all the incidents associated with the relationship of a trustee and his cestui que trust.’
Scarman LJ discussed what were the two tests for whether an item became affixed to the land: ‘(1) the method and degree of annexation; and (2) the object and purpose of the annexation. ‘ and ‘In other words, a degree of annexation which in earlier time the law would have treated as conclusive may now prove nothing. If the purpose of the annexation be for the better enjoyment of the object itself, it may remain a chattel, not withstanding a high degree of physical annexation. Clearly, however, it remains significant to discover the extent of physical disturbance of the building or the land involved in the removal of the object. If an object cannot be removed without serious damage to, or destruction of, some part of the realty, the case for its having become a fixture is a strong one. The relationship of the two tests to each other requires consideration. If there is no physical annexation there is no fixture. Quicquid plantatur solo solo cedit. Nevertheless, an object, resting on the ground by its own weight alone, can be a fixture, if it is so heavy that there is no need to tie it into a foundation, and if it were put in place to improve the realty. Prima Facie, however, an object resting on the ground by its own weight alone is not a fixture: see Megarry and Wade , p 716. Conversely, an object affixed to realty but capable of being removed without much difficulty may yet be a fixture, if, for example, the purpose of its affixing be that ‘of creating a beautiful room as a whole’ (Neville J in In Re Whaley [1908] 1 Ch 615 at p 619. An in the famous instance of Lord Chesterfield’s Settled Estates [1911] 1 Ch 237 Grinling Gibbons carvings, which had been affixed to a suit of rooms 200 years earlier, were held to be fixtures. Today so great are the technical skills of affixing and removing objects to land or buildings that the second test is more likely than the first to be decisive. Perhaps the enduring significance of the first test is a reminder that there must be some degree of physical annexation before a chattel can be treated as part of the realty.’
. . . and the tests, in the case of an item which has been attached to the building in some way other than simply by its own weight, seem to be the purpose of the item and the purpose of the link between the item and the building. If the item viewed objectively, is, intended to be permanent and to afford a lasting improvement to the building, the thing will have become a fixture. If the attachment is temporary and is no more than is necessary for the item to be used and enjoyed, then it will remain a chattel. Some indicators can be identified. For example, if the item is ornamental and the attachment is simply to enable the item to be displayed and enjoyed as an adornment that will often indicate that this item is a chattel. Obvious examples are pictures. But this will not be the result in every case; for example ornamental tiles on the walls of kitchens and bathrooms. The ability to remove an item or its attachment from the building without damaging the fabric of the building is another indicator. The same item may in some areas be a chattel and in others a fixture. For example a cooker will, if free standing and connected to the building only by an electric flex, be a chattel But it may be otherwise if the cooker is a split level cooker with the hob set into a work surface and the oven forming part of one of the cabinets in the kitchen. It must be remembered that in many cases the item being considered may be one that has been bought by the mortgagor on hire purchase, where the ownership of the item remains in the supplier until the instalments have been paid. Holding such items to be fixtures simply because they are housed in a fitted cupboard and linked to the building by an electric cable, and, in cases of washing machines by the necessary plumbing would cause difficulties and such findings should only be made where the intent to effect a permanent improvement in the building is incontrovertible. The type of person who instals or attaches the item to the land can be a further indicator. Thus items installed by a builder, eg the wall tiles will probably be fixtures, whereas items installed by eg a carpet contractor or curtain supplier or by the occupier of the building himself or herself may well not be.
The judge’s directions to himself on the law were these: that the primary test whether an item is or is not a fixture is the degree of annexation of the item to the building. He cited Megarry and Wade on Real Property at page 732:
‘An article is prima facie a fixture if it has some substantial connection with the land or a building on it’ and ‘A chattel attached to the land or a building on it, in some substantial manner, eg by nails or screws, were prima facie a fixture even if it would not be difficult to remove it. Examples in this category are a fireplace, panelling, wainscot and a conservatory on a brick foundation.’


Stamp LJ, Scarman LJ


[1977] 261 EG 911, [1977] 1 EGLR 86


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedEnglewood Properties Limited v Patel and Another ChD 16-Feb-2005
The claimant was a property developer, which sought to sell a row of shops at auction. One lot was a Woolworths store, where the company owned both freehold and leasehold interests, with Woolworths occupying an underlease, which the claimant had . .
CitedBotham and others v TSB Bank Plc CA 30-Jul-1996
A flat had been repossessed by the bank. The parties disputed whether items were fixtures and charged with the land or not.
Held: The judge had correctly analysed and applied the law of fixtures and fittings. The appeal failed save to a . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Land, Contract

Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.223740