The Meaning of “Fixtures” in Property Law

Disputes over contracts often come down to arguments about the meaning of a particular word — often a word that you’ve used before without ever considering its precise definition. In property law, the question of what constitutes a “fixture” in a home can be a hotly contested question, especially when you live in a condo and altering or removing that fixture can affect other unit owners. 

What Is a Fixture? 

The term “fixture” is generally defined as an item that has, by physical annexation, become part of the real property to which it is attached. In other words, a fixture is an item that has been attached to real estate in such a way that removing the item would be difficult to do without causing damage to that property. 

How Do I Know If Something Is a Fixture or Personal Property?

This is a tricky question that often arises when selling a home or in cases of property damage: Renters and homeowners alike often make changes or improvements to property, and identifying who is responsible for repairing any damage to those changes can raise legal questions. Overall, whether something is a fixture or personal property can depend on factors including how the item is attached, its intended function, and the intent of the installer. 

 

For example, a built-in dishwasher isoften be considered a fixture because it’s built into the structure of the kitchen and is clearly intended to be a permanent part of it. A rolling dishwasher, on the other hand, would likely be personal property because it isn’t attached to the kitchen in any meaningful way. Electronics are another edgecase example: A wired stereo system would likely be a fixture, whereas a television would likely be personal property. 

Who Is Responsible for Repairing Fixtures in a Condo?

That depends on how you define fixture, as well as several other factors. In a condo, the biggest question is usually whether the fixture at issue is located inside an individual unit or on common property. We see one interesting example of the question in the case, Royal Bahamian Association, Inc. v. QBE Insurance Corporation, No. 10-21511 (S.D. Fla. October 28, 2010).

After Hurricane Wilma passed through in 2005, the Royal Bahamian Association made a claim on their insurance with QBE for repairs to the sliding glass doors and windows of the association’s common property. 

The issue surfaced regarding the parties’ differing interpretations over the policy provisions within an endorsement. The policy defined fixtures as both “outside of individual units, including outdoor fixtures” and as 

  1. Fixtures, installations or additions, owned by unit-owners and located inside individual units:

(1) Initially installed in accordance with the original plans and specifications, or replacements of like kind or quality as those initially installed; or
(2) As existed at the time the unit was initially conveyed, if the original plans and specifications are not available.


Despite the general definition, the parties in Royal Bahamian disagreed over whether the sliding glass doors and windows of the association were in fact “fixtures” within the policy definition for “Building,” and whether they were within the coverage of the association policy.

The Judge in Royal Bahamian, ultimately denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment because there was a lack of evidence regarding whether the windows and sliding glass doors were located “inside” or “outside” of the individual units. The Court stated that it could not make a guess on that distinction in its coverage determination.

In this particular case, the court ruled in favor of the association, stating that the windows and doors were covered in the policy as some “other portion” of condominium property. Some condominium declarations define the boundaries of the units and may shed some light on the distinction between “fixtures” on the interior or exterior of the units. 

Can You Remove a Built-In Appliance in Your Condo? 

You may be able to remove a built-in appliance in your condo, but proceed with caution. To know for sure, make sure you carefully consult your association’s rules regarding modifications to individual units. These rules might specify whether you can remove built-in appliances and may require approval from the association before any changes are made. You should also carefully evaluate any potential impacts to the larger building structure, since appliances are typically connected to the condo building’s plumbing and electrical systems. Removing an appliance could disrupt these systems and potentially affect other units, which could leave you liable for repairs.

Further Resources on Insurance Coverage Law

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