Last edited 16 Sep 2020

Fittings in buildings

Unlike the terms ‘fixtures’ and ‘chattels’, the word 'fittings' does not have a legally defined status or meaning.

Whilst ‘fixtures and fittings’ (or home contents lists) are a common aspect of property sales and lease agreements, the ‘fittings' aspect can be taken to have a number of different meanings. It is sometimes considered that fittings might include items such as mirrors, curtains, free-standing fridges, and so on, that can be removed, whilst fixtures such as baths or built-in ovens cannot.

However, this interpretation would call into question the meaning of the phrase ‘fixtures and fittings’ and the position is further confused by apparently contradictory phrases such as; fitted carpets, fitted cupboards, light fittings, fitted kitchens, fitted bathrooms, bathroom fittings. and so on.

In Bruce v Moore (2012) Mr Justice Newey said:

"... Paintings do not represent 'fittings'. The word 'fittings' is not a legal term of art ... It is often used in combination with 'fixtures' (as in 'fixtures and fittings'). That was the case in Berkley v Poulett, but no one appears to have considered the addition of 'fittings' important. Nor does reference to the Oxford English Dictionary suggest that the word 'fittings' extends the scope of clause 1 in a relevant way. The dictionary defines 'fittings' as 'Fixtures, apparatus, furniture'. Clause 1 makes separate reference to 'fixtures' and 'furniture', and the paintings would not normally be regarded as 'apparatus'. Further, the word 'fitted' would not naturally apply to the paintings. A carpet or cupboard might be 'fitted'. The paintings were surely hung rather than 'fitted'".

The correct phrase for items that might be considered not to be part of the property, is ‘chattels’ (or in Scotland ‘moveables’) that is, ‘…an asset, which is tangible and moveable’ (such as furniture). This is as opposed to a fixture, which is ‘…an asset that is installed or otherwise fixed in or to a building or land so as to become part of that building or land...’ (such as a boiler). See chattels for more information.

Generally, unless otherwise stated, chattels do not pass onto the purchaser when land or a building is sold, however, disputes can arise in particular in relation to expensive items such as paintings that may to a greater or lesser extent be a part of the building in which they are housed. Where there is doubt, it may be advisable to seek legal advice, and ensure that the position is set out in writing before signing any agreement.

In addition, the distinction between fixtures and chattels is important when calculating stamp duty land tax. Fixtures form part of the taxable value of the purchase, whereas chattels do not. The inclusion of fixtures can move the saleable price for tax purposes to the next stamp duty threshold, resulting in a much larger tax liability for the purchaser than had been expected.

(Ref. HMRC, SDLTM04010 - Scope: How much is chargeable: Fixtures and fittings.)

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