by Neil Storkes
All buildings include fixtures and fittings. Employer’s requirements, drawings and specifications, contracts and health and safety manuals refer to them. However, the term FF & E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) is frequently used as an alternative.
In accountancy, the term FF & E is preferred. It is used in valuing, selling or liquidating a company or building, where FF & E are classed as movable furniture, fixtures or other equipment that have no permanent connection to the structure of a building or utilities. As assets they depreciate differently from buildings, and are therefore considered separately. In this case, examples of FF & E include desks, chairs, computers, electronic equipment, tables, bookcases and partitions.
Currently, the N group of work sections in CAWS (Common Arrangement of Work Sections) adopts a further designation – Furniture/ Equipment. So at best, the terminology is mixed, can be confusing and is frequently used incorrectly, which can lead to misunderstanding!
The distinction between fixtures and fittings and particularly the law relating to them continues to evolve, usually through legal dispute. Therefore, it is essential that we should try to understand what the various terms mean and how they should be used correctly. This is particularly important in the construction industry where projects are being procured in ever more comprehensive ways and Facilities Management is increasingly overlapping with the construction process.
UK, European and US property law all seem to define a fixture in similar ways, as a fixed asset and specifically ‘an asset which has been attached to property in such a way as to be part of the premises and its removal would do harm to the building or land’ (dictionary.law.com).
UK property law further differentiates between fixtures and chattels (movable or transferrable possessions). The HM Customs and Revenue website (CA26025 – PMA: Fixtures: Background and meaning of fixture) states the following:
A fixture is defined as an asset that is installed or otherwise fixed in or to a building or land so as to become part of that building or land in law.
A chattel is defined as an asset, which is tangible and moveable. A chattel may become a fixture if it is fixed to a building or land. For example, before it is installed in a building as part of a central heating system, a central heating radiator is a chattel. Once installed, it becomes a fixture.
The courts have developed two tests for determining whether an asset is a fixture or a chattel:
The first test is not conclusive. Some degree of physical affixation is required before a chattel becomes a fixture. If the asset cannot be removed without serious damage to, or destruction of, the building or land, that is strong evidence that it is a fixture. But it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition.
The second test is now accorded greater significance by the courts than the first. The courts look at the purpose and intention of the asset and its affixation. If, when viewed objectively, it is intended to be permanent and effect a lasting improvement to the property, the asset is a fixture. If the attachment is temporary and is no more than is necessary for the asset to be used and enjoyed, the asset remains a chattel.
Unfortunately, there are no definitive lists for what constitute fixtures or fittings, and specific contract types or location may vary the status of fixtures and fittings for any given project.
Lease contracts may specifically require that any fixtures installed by a tenant be removed at the end of the tenancy and the building fabric made good to its previous condition, or financial compensation agreed. Alternatively, the contract may require that installed fittings revert to the building owner at end of the tenancy. Such conditions are frequently also part of ground leases.
Similarly, in certain cultures (e.g. France), unfurnished property may not even include light fittings, just leaving bare wires for the tenants to install their own.
In NBS, the classification of fixtures, furnishings (fittings) and equipment is based on CAWS, but better consistency of terminology is required. Therefore, we seek to define the various terms as follows:
- A fixture is any item that is intended to be reasonably permanent and is affixed to the property through the application of plaster, cement, bolts, screws, nuts, or nails
- A fitting/ furnishing is any item that is free standing or hung by screws, nails or hooks.
Below is a list of items that typically fall within each category.
- Fixed partitions and doors
- Electrical installations
- Electric sockets
- Light fittings
- Security alarm systems
- Television aerials and satellite dishes
- Fires and fire surrounds
- Central-heating boilers and radiators
- Plumbing installations
- Bathroom suites and other sanitaryware installations
- Vanity furniture
- Cubicles/ shower screens
- Kitchen units
- Integrated appliances
- Adhered floor finishes
- Door furniture
- Built-in furniture, including proprietary reception desks, worktops
- Built in wardrobes/ cupboards/ shelf units (e.g. if they use a wall to form one of their sides and would thus be incomplete if they were removed)
- Wall paintings
- Plants and shrubs [rooted] in land belonging to the property.
- Demountable partition systems
- Telephone systems
- CCTV systems
- Edge-fitted and loose-laid carpets
- Blinds, curtains and curtain rails
- Paintings or mirrors that are not bolted but hung or screwed to a wall
- Notice boards
- Plumbed-in/ connected but free-standing equipment (e.g. commercial catering equipment, laboratory equipment)
- Free-standing ovens, refrigerators, washing machines and other white goods
- Lockers, changing room furniture, etc.
- Beds/sofas and other free standing items of furniture or equipment
- Computers and other IT equipment
- Lamps and lampshades
- Potted plants and shrubs (in containers)