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Real Property Laws

Differences Between Fixtures and Chattel

A fixture is attached to real property, and a reasonable person would consider it a permanent part of a property. A chattel is something that might be attached to the property, but which can be removed without causing damage to the property.

A fixture is attached to a property in such a way that removing the fixture would typically cause damage. Examples include built-in appliances, wall-to-wall carpeting or flooring, built-in fireplaces, furnaces, central heat and vacuum systems, and central air-conditioning systems.

Chattel refers to any physical property that is movable and not a permanent fixture of the real property. For instance, if a wooden board is just resting on the property, it can be moved and is thus considered chattel. However, if the board is used to construct part of the house, then it becomes a permanent fixture. Other examples include furniture, appliances that are freestanding and not built-in, and draperies.

How can a property owner or a court determine whether an item is a fixture or chattel? It depends on how firmly or permanently the item is attached to the property. The intention of the party that attached the item can be important in determining the answer. Courts are not necessarily consistent in distinguishing between fixtures and chattels, which causes confusion. Typically, fixtures and chattels are items that are brought to the land and that have been provided by tenants, owners, or others. Looking into the history of the item may provide the insight necessary to determine intent. Buyers and sellers should discuss these issues before signing contracts, so they are clear on what belongs on the property and what can be removed. For example, chattel could be a stand-alone washing machine and dryer, which are movable and can go with the seller. If the object or item is brought to improve the enjoyment of the property, then it is more likely to be deemed a fixture. If it is brought with the intention of better enjoyment of the object, then it is more likely to be classified as chattel.

Fixture or Chattel?

If an item can be removed from a property with little or no damage, then the item is probably chattel. If removing the item would damage the property, then the item is probably a fixture.