Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Fixtures Definition:

A chattel which has become real property by having been affixed thereto.

Related Terms: Real Property, Chattel, Immovable, Appurtenance, Quicquid Plantatur Solo, Solo Cedit

The doctrine of fixtures is the law's response to the rigidity of the maxim quicquid plantatur solo, solo cedit (that which is affixed to the soil belongs to the soil).

Brynes defines fixtures as:

"... chattels anexed to land, that is, fastened to or connected with it."

Bouvier defines a fixture as:

"... anything fixed or attached to a building, and used in connection with it, movable or immovable. There is much dispute among the authorities as to what is a proper definition."

The "dispute" Bouvier refers to was raging as homeowners multiplied and the distinction between fixture and not jumped from agricultural land to the growing cities.

The definition of a fixture within the Uniform Commercial Code of the United States, at §9.102(41) leaves much to be desired:

"... goods that have become so related to particular real property that an interest in them arises under real property law."

fixturesIn Canada, some calm occurred when the decision in Stack v T. Eaton was published in 1902. The decision of Meridith was short and sweet; five numbered paragraphs that have reverberated throughout law schools ever since. In the case at bar, Meredith found that shelving, gas and lighting "fittings" were fixtures, "part of the land":

"I take it to be settled law:

"• That articles not otherwise attached to the land than by their own weight are not to be considered as part of the land, unless the circumstances are such as shew that they were intended to be part of the land.

"• That articles affixed to the land even slightly are to be considered part of the land unless the circumstances are such as to shew that they were intended to continue chattels.

"• That the circumstances necessary to be shewn to alter the prima facie character of the articles are circumstances which shew the degree of annexation and object of such annexation which are patent to all to see.

"• That the intention of the person affixing the article to the soil is material only so far as it can be presumed from the degree and object of the annexation.

"• That even tenants' fixtures, put in for the purposes of trade, form part of the freehold (land), with the right, however, to the tenant, as between him and his landlord, to bring them back to the state of chattels again by severing them from the soil, and that they pass by a conveyance of the land as part of it, subject to this right of the tenant."

The law of many jurisdictions allow fixtures to be removed prior to surrendering the leased premises to the landlord but every jurisdiction differs in the circumstances of removal and beg questions such as, will removal cause significant damage? Was the fixture there for a commercial purpose (see trade fixtures)? Did the lease contain a clause dealing with fixtures and their removal?

There are as many examples as there are items of personal property subject to being fixed to real property, multiplied by the number of common law jurisdictions. But one good example is Alberta v Hansen where Justice McBain of the Alberta Court of Queens Bench had to agonize over whether or not an earth dam was a fixture:

"Articles attached to the land, however slightly, are presumed to be fixtures, while articles not otherwise attached to the land than by their own weight are presumed to remain chattels.

"These presumptions are rebutted if the circumstances, which must be patent for all to see, are such as to show that the parties intended otherwise. Intention, however, is only material so far as can be presumed from the degree and object of attachment. The onus of rebuttal lies with the party seeking to upset the presumption.

"(I)n the unique circumstances of this case, the Dam is in fact annexed to the Lands. The fact of annexation is not so obvious as it is in many of the authorities in this area which involve articles that are attached to the realty by way of some fastener.

"In this case, there is no fastener per se. The Dam is not something that can be glued, bolted, nailed, stapled, or tied to the Lands. It is, in its simplest form, a mass of earth lodged in the path of a natural watercourse.

"Nevertheless, the method of construction used in this case amounts to an annexation in the circumstances. The natural surface of the Lands was prepared by stripping the topsoil off the site and excavating a trench. The trench was backfilled with clay and compacted. The earthen Dam was then integrated with the prepared surface in such manner as to form a watertight barrier. In the unique circumstances of this case, and especially considering the material composition and construction of the Dam. This constitutes an annexation.

"(T)he Dam itself could not be removed from its present site without destroying its identity as a dam. Whether the article can be removed without injury to itself or to the land is a factor going to the degree of annexation...."

REFERENCES: 

  • Alberta v Hansen, 236 AR 351 (1998)
  • Bentley, C. and others, Williams and Rhodes Canadian Law of Landlord and Tenant (Toronto: Carswell, 2007), pages 13-9 to 13-17.
  • Bouvier, John, Bouvier's Law Dictionary (Boston: The Boston Book Company, 1897), p.797-799.
  • Brynes, W. J., A Dictionary of English Law (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1923) , 392-393.
  • Stack v T. Eaton, 4 OLR 335 (1902)

 

 

 


 

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