Ownership of Fixtures

Updated on July 11, 2017

Fixtures are items of personal property that are so attached to the land that they are considered a part of it.  (See Civ. Code § 660; People v. Church (1943) 136 P.2d 139, 144.) Specifically, “whether an article is a fixture is ordinarily a question of fact to be determined upon the evidence in the particular case, and the question is determined not only by the manner in which the article is annexed to the realty but also by the relationship between the parties.” (Clifford v. Epsten (1951) 106 CalApp.2d 221, 225 citing Taylor v. Heydenreich (1949) 92 Cal.App.2d 684, 688.)

Typically, unless a lease provides otherwise, the fixtures on the rental property belong to the landlord, even if they are installed by the tenant.  (Peiser v. Mettler (1958) 50 Cal.2d.594, 606; Civ. Code § 1013; County of Ventura v. Channel Islands Marina, Inc. (2008) 159 Cal.4th 615, 625.) However, “trade fixtures,” items attached to the property “for purposes of trade, manufacture, ornament, or domestic use” are treated differently. (Civ. Code  § 1019). Specifically, absent an agreement between the landlord and tenant a tenant may remove “trade fixtures” unless the item has “become an integral part of the premises.” (Ibid.) However, the tenant must exercise his right to remove the trade fixtures before the end of the term of the lease, regardless of how the tenancy is terminated. (Civ. Code § 1019; see also Rinaldi v. Goller (1957) 48 Cal.2d 276, 280-281 (holding that a tenant lost his right to remove the trade fixtures when the lease was terminated due to the tenants nonpayment of rent and landlord reentered the property)

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If a tenant wrongfully removes fixtures, a landlord is entitled to damages. A landlord is entitled to recover “the value of the fixture in place as part of the realty.” (Wilmerton v. Morton (1946) 74 Cal.2d 891, 897.) Additionally, a landlord can obtain damages for any injury caused to the property as a result of the removal. (Ibid.)

However, if the tenant affixes improvements to the property in good faith but with the mistaken belief of law or fact that he has the right to do so, he is entitled to remove the improvements upon payment to the landlord of “all damages proximately resulting from the affixing and removal of such improvements.” (Civ. Code § 1013.5.)