Cases on compliance with break clauses in leases always provide interesting and cautionary tales and that of Riverside Park Ltd v NHS Property Services Limited EWHC 1313 (Ch) is no exception. Standard demountable partitions were left in place by a tenant when delivering the premises on a break date. The break clause in the lease required vacant possession on or before the break date. The premises were open plan and a former tenant had installed the internal partitions pursuant to a licence to alter. The Court held that the standard demountable partitions were chattels and not fixtures because they were not attached to the structure. The Court concluded that the chattels substantially interfered with the landlord's right to possession and therefore vacant possession had not been given. The Court also observed that had the partitions been fixtures they would have been tenant's fixtures which were excluded from the definition of the demise in the lease so vacant possession would still not have been given with excluded tenant's fixtures present.
Judge Saffman: "I have carefully considered the tests for differentiating between chattels and fixtures and in my view, on the facts, these partitions are chattels rather than tenant's fixtures.
I reach that conclusion not least because they are seen by the expert as being standard demountable partitions. It would be difficult to conclude that since they are held in place by screw fixings affixed to the raised floor and the suspended ceiling and "in no way fixed to the structure" that they cannot be removed without injury to themselves or the fabric of the building..."