In Marlborough Knightsbridge Management Ltd v Fivaz  EWCA Civ 989 (6 July 2021), the Court of Appeal had to consider if the front door of a flat was a “landlord’s fixture” and if it was had the tenant breached a clause of his lease by changing it?
The tenant, a long leaseholder of two flats within a block, replaced the entrance doors to his flats in 2014 but did not seek permission of the landlord to do so. In March 2019, the landlord made an application to the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) for a determination that the tenant had breached his lease.
The key dispute of the case was whether the tenant had breached a clause in his lease which provided as follows; “Not at any time during the said term […] to remove any of the landlords fixtures therefrom without first having made a written application”. Importantly the term landlord’s fixture was not defined, the landlord contended that the front door was part of the fixtures.
The FFT found in favour of the landlord, the tenant appealed and the Upper Tribunal found for the tenant. The landlord appealed to the Court of Appeal, who dismissed the appeal and held that the door was not a landlord fixture and so the tenant had not breached the lease.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision
The Court of Appeal decided that the front door was part of the original structure of the flat. The front door was seen as essential to the structure of the property since it afforded privacy and security to the tenant and that the construction of a flat would be considered incomplete if the entrance door had not yet been hung.
In coming to this conclusion, Lord Justice Arnold with which the other Judges agreed drew on the dicta in Climie v Wood (1868-69) L.R. 4 Exch 328 that discussed items being brought onto land can be chattels, fixtures or part and parcel of the land. Willes J stated that some things annexed to land remain chattels after they are annexed and the example used was pictures hung on a wall. Willes J continued saying that some things may be made so completely part of the land as being essential to its convenient use that even the tenant could not remove them and the example given for this was doors and windows. These sorts of items are not chattels or fixtures as they have become a part of the land itself.
This case raises some key takeaways for landlords.
Firstly, it is always preferable to define terms used rather than later attempt to argue what undefined terms might mean. Lord Justice Arnold was particularly critical at the use of ‘landlord’s fixtures’ as a catch all term without other explanation or definition and took the view that the term itself really lacked meaning.
Secondly, is one that is a common one when issues of lease interpretation are involved; please read the lease carefully and determine who bears obligations for maintenance of doors, windows and other items. The Lease is prepared by the Landlord and the Court will show little sympathy if the Landlord’s own document is unclear.
Finally, as the front entrance door of the flat was held to be part of the structure, this could be useful for a landlord with responsibility to maintain and repair the ‘structure’ of a flat looking to engage in a programme of upgrading the front entrance doors as part of fire safety works.