The law distinguishes between chattels and fixtures. A chattel is movable property. A fixture is a chattel that has been fixed or attached and can no longer be easily moved. For example, an arm-chair would be a chattel, whereas a built-in bench would be a fixture. The rule is fairly simple – a seller must leave all fixtures and can take all chattels.
It is important for sellers and buyers to be clear about what will stay and what can be taken. It is common for people to include/exclude items such as appliances, blinds, drapes, and lighting fixtures. However, there are certain objects that may not be as obvious such as hot-tubs, children’s play sets, garden decorations, and wall-mounted televisions.
The courts have debated the issue of chattels and fixtures for many years. On a case-by-case basis, the court will analyze all of the factors to determine whether the object is a chattel or a fixture. The court will consider numerous factors including the weight of the object, the purpose and use of the object, degree of affixation, etc. While these factors provide the courts with some legal terminology to reach a decision, it is clear that there is a great deal of confusion and inconsistency in this area of the law. To avoid time-consuming and expensive litigation, the parties in a real estate transaction should make it clear what items are to be included in the sale and what items will be excluded.
Ultimately, if a seller takes a fixture, the buyer must then decide whether it will be worthwhile to pursue the seller for compensation. For example, if a seller takes the dining room light, the buyer will have to determine whether it is worth the time and money to sue the seller. For this reason, it is particularly important for sellers and buyers to specify anything of significant value in the agreement of purchase and sale. If there is any question as to whether something will be a fixture or chattel, it is best to deal with it ahead of time.