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Lawbite: When is a door a landlord’s fixture?

  • United Kingdom
  • Litigation and dispute management
  • Real estate
  • Real estate litigation - LawBite

21-07-2021

 

Marlborough Knightsbridge Management Ltd v Fivaz [2021] EWCA Civ 989

The Court of Appeal recently found that the entrance doors to two flats formed part of the structure of the flats and were therefore not the landlord’s fixtures. 

Mr Fivaz holds two long leases of two flats in a London block owned by Marlborough. In 2014, he replaced the front doors of both flats without the landlord’s permission. In 2019, the landlord applied to the First-tier Tribunal under s.168(4) of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 for a determination that by removing the doors the tenant had breached its covenants “not to remove any of the landlords fixtures” [sic] without consent.  

The First-tier Tribunal held that the tenant had breached the covenant as the doors were the landlord’s fixtures. The Upper Tribunal overturned this decision finding that the doors formed part of the land demised to the tenant and as such he had not breached its leases by changing them. The landlord appealed this decision.

Central to the Court of Appeal’s decision was a) the need to construe the leases applying ordinary principles of contractual interpretation, and b) the meaning given to the term “landlord’s fixtures” over its long usage in landlord and tenant law.

“Landlord’s fixtures” was not a defined term in the leases. There was no suggestion that, if the doors were found to be fixtures, they would be tenant’s fixtures.  As such, the question was whether the doors were fixtures at all.

In reaching its decision the Court of Appeal referred to the case of Climie v Wood (1868-69) where windows and doors were offered as examples of items which may become “so completely a part of the land and be essential to its convenient use” that they ceased to be chattels and became fixtures. Reference was also made to Boswell v Crucible Steel (1925), which the Court found to be indistinguishable from this case. In that case the Court of Appeal had held that plate glass windows which formed part of the walls were not "landlord's fixtures", but formed part of the original structure of the building.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and held that the entrance doors formed part of the original structure of the flats. Had there been no doors it would be difficult to argue that the construction of the flat was complete. It was immaterial that the doors were affixed to the doorframes by hinges after the walls were built. Moreover, the doors were an essential part of the structure, since they afforded privacy and security to the tenant(s). The tenant was therefore not in breach of its covenants.

Key points

  • whilst it will in each case turn on the wording of the lease concerned, it is likely that entrance doors to flats will be considered to form part of the construction going forward as 1) until they are hung it is unlikely that it can be said that the flat is complete, and 2) they are an essential part of the structure for affording privacy and security to tenants
  • Section 168 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 requires that a breach (other than non-payment of rent) must either be admitted by the leaseholder or proved in the FTT before a landlord can exercise a right of forfeiture. Had the landlord been successful the decision would have paved the way to it taking the next steps to terminating the leases by forfeiture 

For more information, contact: 

Hollie Lewis
Paralegal
T: +44 29 2047 7613
hollielewis@eversheds-sutherland.com