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Understanding the Land Law


Traditionally, the definition of land is the actual land, and the things that are attached to the land stretching down to the centre of the earth and rising up to the sky. However, it is not always as simple as that to define land. At times, there may be things that are attached to the land not intended to be in the permanent form of attachment and at other times, the things attached to the land may be in the nature of permanent attachments. Here, the conflicting rights or interests of two parties may be involved, with both claiming the ownership of the thing, arising out of the ownership of the land. The courts have to decide under the circumstances, whether the thing attached to the land is a chattel, therefore, not a part of the land and removable from the land, or a fixture, therefore, a part of the land, therefore not removable from the land.

The essay discusses the nature of fixtures as a part of the land in light of decisions of the courts.

The traditional concept of land is that it is constituted of physical land down to the centre of the earth and up to the sky and everything that is attached to or embedded in the land. The question of defining land is a complex one, despite the simplicity with which the traditional definition conceptualises it. The reason for the complexity of defining land is due to the fact that not only the physically attached things that are considered to be land and the legal interests that may be vested in some persons, will also be considered to be land within the definition of land.

The statutory definition of land is contained in the Law of Property Act 1925, section 205 (1) (ix), which provides:

“Land includes land of tenure, mines and minerals…buildings or parts of buildings and other corporeal hereditaments; also a manor, an advowson, and a rent and other incorporeal hereditaments, and an easement, right, privilege, or benefit in, over, and derived from the land.”

From the definition given above it is seen that land can include physical, tangible things, such as mines and minerals and buildings. Land can also include the intangible rights and interests, such as easements and hereditaments. The interests in land, such as easement, which are also a part of the definition of land can be defined as the proprietary rights that one person may even enjoy in the land of another.

The definition of land includes things that are attached to the land or are a part of the land. As this could also include actual fixtures that are put on the property, there may at times be conflicting interests of two parties in these fixtures. For example, person A may sell a property to person B and remove some items from the property believing these to not be the part of the transfer. However, person B may be under the belief that the transfer of the property in land, would include such things as were attached to the land. In such cases, the courts have to determine the status of the thing and the resultant rights in the thing. The status may be either a chattel (therefore, not a part of land) or fixture (therefore, a part of the land).

In Holland v Hodgson, the court had to determine whether the spinning looms attached to the floor, were also a part of the land of the factory, which the mortgagee was claiming ownership over when he took possession of the factory. The court held that the articles that are attached to the land by their own weight and not really intended to be attached to the land, are not a part of the land. The tests for deciding whether such fixtures are a part of the land will depend on two tests, which relate to the degree of annexation and the general purpose of annexation. The degree of annexation depends on the nature of the property and the purpose of annexation depends on whether the attachment is ornamental or purposive, permanent or temporary.

In D’Eyncourt v Gregory, the court had to decide whether the statues on the property amounted to fixtures or not. Here the statues were attached to the land by their own weight and could be removed from the land easily. However, the installation of the statues was a part of the architectural design, and therefore, the purpose of installation was to enhance the land. Considering this, the court in the case held the statues to be fixtures.

In Hamp v Bygrave, the court had to consider the status of a number of stone urns and statues on the property. The vendors claimed that these were chattels, as these were standing on their own weight. The court held these to be chattels.

In TBS Bank Plc v Botham, the question before the court related to bathroom fittings, kitchen workspaces and kitchen units in a flat that was repossessed by the bank and sold with the apartment. The court held that these items had a high degree of annexation and therefore, these were fixtures. These items had been fixed in the apartment not just to be enjoyed for themselves, but to add to the usability of the apartment. As such then, these items were fixtures. On the other hand, items such as cooker, freezer or fridge were white goods and therefore, these were chattels. Finally, curtains, carpets and blinds, were attached to the apartment in an insubstantial way, therefore, these were chattels.

In Elitestone Ltd v Morris, the question of fixtures involved the wooden bungalow on the land, which were held to be a part of the land in the decision given by the House of Lords. The cases discussed here all relate to the fixtures or chattels that were put on the property by the owner. At the time of sale or repossession by mortgagor, the question may arise whether the original owner is entitled to take away the things. It all depends on the nature of the attachment and the resultant status of the thing as either a fixture or a chattel. If the thing is attached in a substantial manner to the land, or its attachment to the land is intended to be of a permanent nature, then the thing is a fixture and if the attachment is not intended to be permanent, then the thing is a chattel and can be removed.

There are cases involving tenants as well, where the tenants may have attached something to the property and must be wanting to take that thing away on the completion of the lease period. In such cases as well, the courts have to consider the nature of the attachment before determining whether it can be treated as a chattel or a fixture.

In Spyer v Phillipson, the tenant installed an antique panelling on the property. When the lease came to an end, the tenant wanted to take away the panelling. He was allowed to so because the panelling was meant to be ornamental and the removal of the panelling was not damaging to the property.

In Young v Dalgety Plc, the tenant was allowed to take away the carpets and light fittings. In Mancettor Developments Ltd v Garmonson Ltd., the tenant of a chemical business wanted to remove an extractor fan that was affixed to the wall. The removal of the fan would have caused some damage to the property. However, the court allowed the tenant to remove the fan as long as he paid the owner back for the damage caused.

The tenant has a right to enter the property for the purpose of removal of tenant’s fixtures. In Poster v Slough Lane Estates,the court held that the right of a tenant to enter the property for the purpose of removal of fixtures and fittings depends upon the doctrine of notice. If the tenant has given a notice to the relevant person, then he may remove the fixtures attached to the property.

As seen, tenant’s fixtures are different from fixtures in general, because the intention of the tenant in the permanency of the fixture is also to be seen in the light of the fact that as a tenant, the intended stay on the property itself is not for perpetuity and it is transitional in nature.

The definition of land includes everything that is attached to the land or forms part of the land. In that sense, fixtures and fittings are a part of the land. However, fixtures have to be differentiated from chattels, which are not intended to remain attached to the land in a permanent sense. Ultimately, chattels can be removed from the land but fixtures remain a part of the land. A distinction is drawn with respect to tenants’ fixtures, which the tenant is allowed to remove.


  • Bray J, Key Cases Land Law, Second Edition (Oxon: Routledge 2013)
  • Clarke S and Greer S, Land Law Directions (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012) 13.
  • Dixon M, Modern Land Law (Oxon: Routledge 2013)
  • McFarlane B, Hopkins N, Nield S, Land Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2015)
  • MacKenzie J, Phillips M, Textbook on Land Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2014)

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