What are the standards or tests for determining the removability of improvements or fixtures?
What items have been found by the courts to be removable?
What items have been found by a court not to be removable?
I.Standard or Test for Removability
Under Texas Property Code Section 53.022 a statutory mechanic’s lien may attach to land and items that have become annexed to land, such as improvements (including fixtures), and not to chattel. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 53.022 (Vernon 2007); First Nat’l Bank v. Whirlpool Corp., 517 S.W.2d 262, 266 (Tex. 1974). Mechanic’s and materialman’s statutory liens on improvements made, if perfected, are superior to other liens, including a prior recorded deed of trust lien, where the improvements can be removed without material injury to (1) the land, (2) the pre-existing improvements, or (3) the improvements being removed. Id. at 269. In Texas, mechanic’s and materialman’s lien statutes are liberally construed to protect laborers and materialmen. Id. Generally, the issue of whether an improvement is removable or not is a question for the fact finder. Exchange Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. Monocrete Pty Ltd., 629 S.W.2d 34, 36 (Tex. 1982).
The Texas Supreme Court has found that there are several factors for the fact finder to consider when assessing whether the removal of a specific improvement will cause material injury. Id. These factors include: (1) the nature and function of the item sought to be removed; (2) the probability of damage to the structure without the item; (3) the manner and extent of attachment to the land or existing structure; (4) the extent to which removal would necessitate repairs, modification and/or protection of the land or existing structure; and (5) the stage of completion of improvements under construction at the time removal is sought. Id. at 37.
In addition to not causing material injury if removed, the item sought to be removed should not be an integral part of the basic, and therefore be separable from the basic structure. Cornerstone Bank v. J.N. Kent Construction Co., No. 05-91-00499-CV, 1992 Tex. App. LEXIS 3338, at *5 (Tex. Civ. App.—Dallas 1992). In analyzing whether an item is separable from the structure, the court should consider the following questions:
1.Is the item merely attached to the structure in such a manner that it is obvious that removal and/or replacement is always possible?
2.Is the item one which is removed and/or replaced as part of ordinary maintenance?
3.Is the item one which is removed and/or replaced as part of ordinary operation of the building?
4.Is removal, while not usual, or even usually contemplated, so simple and so non-destructive of item, structure or freehold, that to deny removability (or separateness) would violate the purpose of the mechanic’s lien statutes?
5.Is the item, though easily removable, such a part of the finished structure that not party would even contemplate removal and/or replacement during the ordinary operation and maintenance of the building?
The courts have consistently moved toward broadening the scope of removables to include most items whose removal would not make the interior of the structure susceptible to damage from exterior elements and that are not incorporated into the basic structure in such a manner that they would cause irreparable damage to the surrounding structure upon separation and removal.
Texas courts have found the following items to be removable as a matter of law:
(a)Acoustic tiles and ceiling grid. Cornerstone Bank, 1992 Tex. App. LEXIS 3338, at *8.
iCourt found that a ceiling is not equivalent to a roof, which serves the vital role of protecting the interior of the structure from the elements and is structural; a ceiling is cosmetic. Id.
(b)Air conditioning compressors. Id.
(c)Air conditioning units and heating units in apartment complexes. Am. Amicable Life Ins. Co. v. Jay’s Air Conditioning & Heating, Inc., 535 S.W.2d 23, 25 (Tex. Civ. App.—Waco 1976, writ ref’d n. r. e.).
(d)Air handling units. Cornerstone Bank, 1992 Tex. App. LEXIS 3338, at *10.
(e)Aluminum building address numerals. Id. at 15.
(f)Appliances. Richard H. Sikes, Inc. 586 S.W.2d at 954.
(g)Built in dishwashers. First Nat’l Bank, 517 S.W.2d at 266.
(h)Burglar alarms. Richard H. Sikes, Inc. 586 S.W.2d at 954.
(i)Carpets. Richard H. Sikes, Inc. v. L&N Consultants, Inc., 586 S.W.2d 950, 954 (Tex. Civ. App. – Waco 1979, writ ref’d n. r. e.).
(j)Distribution air grills – stemming in part from the fact that court also found ceilings to be removable. Cornerstone Bank, 1992 Tex. App. LEXIS 3338, at *11.
(k)Doors (interior and exterior). Id.
iDoors are not integral parts of the structure. Id. Exterior doors are removable if they are replaced or the hole is covered with plywood or other material to protect the interior from the elements. Id.
(l)Doorlocks. Richard H. Sikes, Inc. 586 S.W.2d at 954.
(m)Elevator equipment and elevator cab. Cornerstone Bank, 1992 Tex. App. LEXIS 3338, at *12.
iThe small size of the building in the case was important in the courts reasoning that an elevator was not an integral part of the building. See Id.
(n)Electrical circuit breaker panels, light fixtures, and copper and aluminum wiring running through conduit. Id at *13-*14.
(o)Electrical controlling mechanisms. Id at *14.
(p)Entire structure removable from the foundation. Parkdale State Bank v. McCord, 428 S.W.2d 121(Tex. Civ. App.—Corpus Christi 1968, writ ref’d n. r. e.).
(q)Exterior widows and doors could be removed by taking out the brick and trim around them and then replacing the brick and trim without causing ultimate damage to the residence and covering the holes with plywood to protect the interior from the elements. First Cont’l Real Estate Inv. Trust v. Cont’l Steel Co., 569 S.W.2d 42, 45-46 (Tex. Civ. App.—Fort Worth 1978, no writ).
(r)Garbage disposals. First Nat’l Bank, 517 S.W.2d at 266.
(s)Headache bar and dumpster fence. Cornerstone Bank, 1992 Tex. App. LEXIS 3338, at *15.
(t)Interior doors, interior windows, and metal doorframes. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. 442, 447 (Bankr. W.D. Tex. 1986).
(u)Landscape irrigation system and planting materials. Id.
iThey are removable insofar as the irrigation pipes can be dug up, dismantled, and the dirt replaced in the resulting trenches. Id. The same applies to the planting material. Id.
(v)Light fixtures. Richard H. Sikes, Inc. 586 S.W.2d at 954.
(w)Pumps attached to exiting machinery and foundation. Mogul Producing & Ref. Co. v. S. Engine & Pump Co., 244 S.W. 212 (Tex. Civ. App.—Beaumont 1922, no writ).
(x)Smoke detectors. Richard H. Sikes, Inc. 586 S.W.2d at 954.
(y)Toilets, wash basins, urinals and like items. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 446-47.
(z)Wall switches and plugs, electrical cover plates, and electrical control panels. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 447.
(aa)Wooden cabinets. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 447.
iAny possible damage resulting from removal, such as damage to wallpaper, would be minor and not a material injury. Id.
Texas courts have found the following items to be non-removable as a matter of law:
(a)Air conditioner duct work. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 447.
(b)Brick for exterior of structure and in construction of chimneys and fireplaces. Chamberlain v. Dollar Sav. Bank of New York, 451 S.W.2d 518, 520 (Tex. Civ. App.—Amarillo 1970, no writ).
(c)Electromagnetic insulation surrounding the imaging magnet. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 447.
(d)Entire garage building. Crabb v. William Cameron & Co., 63 S.W.2d 367 (Tex. Comm'n App. 1933, judgm’t adopted).
(e)Exterior glass walls, gasket material, and aluminum framing. Cornerstone Bank, 1992 Tex. App. LEXIS 3338, at *7.
(f)Glass brick wall that is part of an interior wall. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 447.
(g)Lumber used to build a house. Cameron County Lumber Co. v. Al & Lloyd Parker, Inc., 122 Tex. 487, 62 S.W.2d 63, 64 (1933).
(h)New roof on an existing building. Citizens Nat’l Bank v. Strauss, 29 Tex. Civ. App. 407, 408, 69 S.W. 86, 87 (Austin 1902, writ ref’d).
(i)Paint and plaster. R. B. Spencer & Co. v. Brown, 198 S.W. 1179, 1180 (Tex. Civ. App.—El Paso 1917, writ ref’d).
(j)Plumbing piping (PVC or copper). In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 447.
iRanges are not subject to a statutory lien because they are connected to the structure only by an electrical cord and are thus not incorporated or consumed; they have not lost their identity as chattels. First Nat’l Bank, 517 S.W.2d at 266.
iRefrigerators are not subject to a statutory lien because they are connected to the structure only by an electrical cord and are thus not incorporated or consumed; they have not lost their identity as chattels. First Nat’l Bank, 517 S.W.2d at 266.
iRemoval would cause material injury to the existing improvements on the land. Exchange Sav. & Loan Ass’n 629 S.W.2d 34, 37 (Tex. 1982).
(n)Sheet rock. In re: Orah Wall Fin. Corp., 84 B.R. at 447.
(o)“Shell houses” that have been merged with completed houses. Irving Lumber Co. v. Alltex Mortgage Co., 446 S.W.2d 64 (Tex. Civ. App.—Dallas 1969), aff’d, 468 S.W.2d 341 (Tex. 1971).
(p)Wallpaper. Quinn v. Dickinson, 146 S.W. 993, 1000 (Tex. Civ. App.—Amarillo 1912, no writ).