The term ‘landlord’s fixtures’ is ubiquitous in leases, but what exactly does it mean? In pondering that issue in a guideline case, the Court of Appeal ruled that the front doors of two long leasehold flats were not fixtures, either belonging to the landlord or otherwise, and that the tenant was therefore entitled to replace them.
The 99-year leases of the flats contained covenants by which the tenant promised, amongst other things, not to remove any of the landlord’s fixtures without the latter’s written consent. After the tenant of both flats replaced the front doors, the landlord, a property management company, launched proceedings seeking a declaration that he had breached the covenants.
The application, which was the first step in the landlord’s attempt to forfeit the leases, was upheld by the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) on the basis that the removed doors were landlord’s fittings. There was no evidence that they were in a state of disrepair when they were replaced. The FTT’s ruling was, however, subsequently reversed by the Upper Tribunal, which found that the doors were not fixtures, but rather part of the land demised to the tenant under the leases.
Challenging that outcome, the landlord argued that, for the benefit of all tenants of the block of 168 flats, it wished to maintain commonality of appearance and safety standards. Had the tenant asked before removing the doors, the landlord’s consent could not have been unreasonably withheld.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court noted that the term ‘landlord’s fixtures’ has long been used in residential leases. It has, however, been variously criticised by eminent judges as ‘most inaccurate’, ‘not a happy expression’, and as generally difficult to understand. It was not suggested that the doors were tenant’s fixtures, so the real issue was whether they were fixtures at all.
Ruling that they were not, the Court noted that the doors formed part of the original structure of the flats when built. They afforded privacy and security to tenants and no one could say that the construction of the flats was complete before their entrance doors were hung. The fact that the doors were affixed, via hinges and door frames, to the building’s walls after the latter were built was immaterial.