Chattels Vs Fixtures: Different or the Same?



    As you seek to buy a home, you will encounter the concept of chattels and fixtures. For new buyers, it can be confusing when you assume something’s included with a property you’ve purchased only to find out that it is not. This is a common question that we, as real estate lawyers in Toronto, receive.

    What Are Chattels?

    Chattel is defined in real estate as ‘personal property’ that is not real property. It is s a term used to signify tangible movable items including, but not limited to, furniture, equipment, and similar item. Chattel is anything that’s a moveable possession. These are items that are not land nor permanently attached to the property being sold.

    The most common examples of chattels are living room furniture (i.e. a couch and loveseat) bedroom furniture (i.e. mattress and bedframe) and home theatre systems, including anything that’s mounted or built into the wall.

    The difference between a chattel and a fixture is that a fixture is an object that’s firmly fixed in place. This would include items such as carpeting and built-in shelves. A fixture is not part of the property being sold but they are fixed to it. For example, a fireplace, doors, and countertops, are considered fixtures even though they aren’t necessarily attached to the land or property. They are legally considered fixtures because of their weight and the fact that they cannot be removed without causing damage or requiring an alteration to fixtures or to the land.

    Are Chattels Included In A Sale?

    Chattels are usually not included in the purchase price. They are an implied exclusion unless otherwise noted. In negotiating the agreement of purchase and sale, you and your lawyer may request that a specified chattel be included.

    Conversely, a fixture is normally included in the purchase price as these are items fixed to a property.

    Never assume anything in a home sale. If you are unsure if something is included, ask. Understandably, this is where disputes can arise. A buyer or seller may contact their lawyer to argue for a certain chattel or fixture. In some cases, these disputes end up in court where insurance companies get involved. Needless to say, it can get quite complex. A sure way to avoid this is to be clear on chattels and fixtures, and what’s included in the purchase of a home.

    Are Appliances Chattels Or Fixtures?

    An appliance is considered a fixture and not a chattel. Appliances are sold with the property unless specified otherwise this notably came up in a 2003 Ontario court decision where a seller was switching out appliances they had sold with their home for non-functional appliances. The appliances often included in the purchase price include stoves, dishwashers, fridges, and washer and dryer combos.

    A cautious buyer may want to check any included appliances to verify they are in good working order. Once you take possession of the home and non-functioning appliance is no longer the responsibility of the seller.

    What Can Be Included In Chattels?

    There can be come ambiguity when it comes to what is a chattel and what is a fixture. These include:

    • A TV wall-mount is attached to the wall, however, the TV is not.
    • There are brackets holding the drapes but the drapes themselves aren’t affixed to the property.
    • Light fixtures may be removable but are technically considered fixtures. A seller may still remove existing fixtures and replace them with less premium ones.
    • Window coverings can get quite decorative and elaborate but aren’t are not technically fixtures.
    • If it’s a rural property or farmland, there may be disputes surrounding tractors, gates, and disagreements between crops and livestock.
    • A mirror can be a fixture or a chattel, depending on whether it’s removable or not.
    • Don’t assume a utility shed is a fixture. Most are not annexed to the land and can be broken down and removed. That said, this is one chattel you may be able to negotiate to be included in your purchase price.
    • Shelves that are affixed to the wall may not be considered chattel.

    The best way to tackle the uncomfortable topic of what is a chattel and what is a fixture is to speak with the seller so you can understand what’s included in the purchase price. Make sure you get the details in writing, signed off by your lawyer. Any chattels or fixtures that are included should be specified with as much detail as possible. It will reduce the chance of litigation in the future.

    What To Do When There’s A Chattel/Fixture Dispute

    If something is listed as a part of the sale but is missing or is damaged, contact your real estate lawyer immediately. The seller may be liable for breach of contract. Your lawyer can help you with this issue.

    If there are significant alterations and/or issues with fixtures missing and/or chattels that should have been included, (i.e. kitchen and bathroom fittings or missing appliances) this could be considered a breach of contract. As a buyer, you may have the right to have the agreement rescinded and pull out of the purchase. Contact a lawyer first who can examine the purchase agreement carefully.

    A real estate lawyer can offer guidance on these issues before you close the purchase. The best way to win a dispute in real estate is to avoid it. You do this through communication and foresight. You may be a first-time buyer but an experienced real estate lawyer can cut through the red tape and help you avoid problems so purchasing your dream home does not end up being a nightmare.

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