Aircool Installations v British Telecommunications [1995] CLY 821

The definition of a fixture

Facts

The claimant was a manufacturer of air conditioning equipment and subcontracted another firm to install the equipment in the premises of the defendant. The contract between the claimant and the subcontractor contained a clause which provided that the equipment remained the property of the claimant until the subcontractor had paid in full for it. The subcontractor then entered into a contract to install the air conditioning equipment in the defendant’s property, but this contract did not contain a clause equivalent to the retention clause in the contract between the claimant and the subcontractor. Three pairs of units were installed. Internal units were bolted to walls and plugged into the electric mains. External units were placed by their own weight immediately outside the property. The elements were connected, through a specially cut hole in the wall, by electrical cabling and ducting containing refrigerant. The installation took two men between one and two weeks and the equipment could be removed by two men in four to five days, wherein it was reusable in another installation. The claimant sought the return of the equipment from the defendant on the basis that it remained its property.

Issue

The issue in this circumstance was whether the equipment was a chattel and therefore could be removed as being the claimant’s property or whether it now formed part of the land to which it was attached.

Held

It was held that the ordinary steps in considering whether an item was a fixture or a chattel should be applied. The units should each be considered collectively. The internal part was sufficiently annexed to the land to be a fixture and the purpose of the annexation was the better enjoyment of the property. The items therefore were fixtures and the retention clause had no effect.