Nw. Lumber & Wrecking Co. v. Parker

Decision Date06 March 1914
Citation125 Minn. 107,145 N.W. 964
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court


Appeal from District Court, Hennepin County; John H. Steele, Judge.

Action by the Northwestern Lumber & Wrecking Company against Elizabeth F. Parker and others to foreclose mechanics' liens. Verdict for plaintiff. From adverse order and judgment, the defendant named appeals. Affirmed.

Syllabus by the Court

A two-story and basement building was leased to one tenant, the first story and basement for manufacturing purposes, and the second story for living apartments. At the instance of the tenant a lien claimant furnished the labor and part of the material for installing a combination steam heating and power plant in the building. If the plant was a fixture in the legal sense, the freehold is lienable; if it was removable, the freehold is not lienable.

Where a controversy arises between vendor and vendee or mortgagor and mortgagee, all articles originally personalty, which have been actually or constructively attached, are fixtures and part of the freehold.

When the question arises between landlord and tenant, articles, ordinarily fixtures, if attached by a tenant for trade purposes, may be removed during the tenancy, so long as such removal does not result in material and permanent injury to the freehold. In no case can the tenant remove fixtures, if they are permanent in their nature, and if their removal will leave the freehold in a substantially worse plight than before the annexation was made. The evidence sustains the finding of the trial court that this plant became part of the land.

A tenant, with the assent of the landlord, gave a chattel mortgage on articles attached to the realty. The effect of this was to make these articles personal property as between these parties, but the rights of persons performing labor in annexing such articles to the freehold without knowledge of such contract could not be affected thereby.

Painting a building inside and out, papering, painting, and kalsomining, inside, and putting on a section of new roof, to fit premises for occupancy by a tenant, are not ‘repairs,’ within a statute which provides that, against a lessor, no lien is given for repairs made by or at the instance of his lessee.

Where work done under several contracts is practically continuous and constitutes one job, only one lien statement need be filed.

The contract price as agreed upon between a lien claimant and the party ordering the work is prima facie evidence of its value as against the owner.

The evidence sustains the finding of the trial court that the owner of the premises authorized these improvements. Mead & Bryngelson, of Minneapolis, for appellant.

Wright & Matchan, of Minneapolis, for respondent Chaffee.

John A. Sweeney, of Minneapolis, for respondent Gardner Hardward Co.


[1] 1. Defendant Parker owned a two-story and basement building. She leased the first floor and the basement to the C. C. Whitney Pure Food Company, for five years, with an option of purchase. The lease provided that the building was to be used for manufacturing purposes and that the lessee should ‘make all necessary changes or repairs at his own expense.’ Some time later she leased the second floor to the Whitney Company. This floor was fitted up for living apartments. This lease was never signed, but the Whitney Company took possession.

The Whitney Company made some improvements, as a result of which two mechanics' liens were filed. This action is to foreclose these liens. They will be separately considered.

The Roberts Lien.

The Whitney Company purchased an engine, boiler, and some steam radiators and other appliances, and contracted with H. O. Roberts Company to do the work and furnish such other material as might be necessary in order to install a combined steam-heating and power plant. The plant as installed consisted of the following: A boiler in the basement set upon a foundation of brick, stone, and cement or mortar, prepared for the purpose; a steel smokestack just outside of the wall of the building, set on a separate cement foundation built for the purpose; a smoke-pipe connecting the boiler with the stack and passing through an opening made for the purpose in the stone foundation wall; an engine for power for manufacturing purposes, situated on the first floor, bolted to an engine bed on the floor; the engine bed supported by posts set in the basement; coil radiators in the basement; the usual steam radiators on the first and second floors, connected with the boiler with the usual piping, screwed, flanged to the boiler, and screwed to the radiators; the pipes in the basement being also nailed or screwed to floor joists. Holes were made in the floor for the passage of pipes from one floor to another. There were the usual elbows, couplings, valves, traps, and fittings incident to a steam-heating plant.

Defendant Parker contends that this heating and power plant was personal property and that the real estate was not lineable therefor. The statute gives a lien upon real estate in favor of any person who contributes to the improvement of the real estate by performing labor or furnishing material for the erection or alteration of any building or fixture thereon. Gen. Stats. 1913, § 7020. If, as the claimant contends, this plant was a fixture in the legal sense of that word, the freehold is lienable; if, as the owner contends, the plant was removable property, the freehold was not lienable. White Enamel Refrigerator Co. v. Kruse, 121 Minn. 479, 140 N. W. 114. The trial court found in favor of the claimant. The question is: Is this decision sustained by the evidence?

[2] 2. The general principles applicable to the laws of fixtures are now pretty well established. In determining whether an article, originally personal property, has become a fixture, that is, a part of the freehold, several things must be considered, namely, the fact and character of the annexation, the nature of the thing annexed and its adaptability to the use of the land, the intent of the parties concerned, and the relation to the freehold of the party making the annexation. Wolford v. Baxter, 33 Minn. 12, 17, 21 N. W. 744,53 Am. Rep. 1. The relation of the parties is sometimes of decisive importance. Where the question arises between vendor and vendee or mortgagor and mortgagee, the rule is that articles physically or constructively attached to the freehold are real estate. Such articles are constructively attached when they bear such relation to the structure as to constitute in ordinary understanding a component part of the structure itself. Wolford v. Baxter, 33 Minn. 12, 21 N. W. 744,53 Am. Rep. 1;Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. v. Minneapolis Engine & Machine Works, 35 Minn. 543, 29 N. W. 349. There is no doubt that if this case had arisen between a vendor and vendee, or between a mortgagor and mortgagee, this plant must have been held a fixture. It was substantially attached to the freehold.

[3][9] 3. When the question arises between landlord and tenant, different considerations enter into the case. Modern decisions have ingrafted on the law of fixtures an exception, due to the growing necessities of trade, that certain articles ordinarily fixtures, attached by a tenant for trade purposes, may be removed during the tenancy. Such articles are known as ‘trade fixtures.’ McAdam, Landlord & Tenant, § 219; Cook v. Champlain Transportation Co., 1 Denio (N. Y.) 91. If an article has acquired the character of a ‘trade fixture,’ the later cases hold that it is removable by the tenant, no matter how firmly attached, so long as such removal does not result in material and permanent injury to the freehold. Hanrahan v. O'Reilly, 102 Mass. 201;Bergh v. Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co., 136 Fed. 368, 69 C. C. A. 212, 70 L. R. A. 756;Friedlander v. Ryder, 30 Neb. 783, 47 N. W. 83,9 L. R. A. 700; In Wiggins Ferry Co. v. O. & M. Ry. Co., 142 U. S. 396, 12 Sup. Ct. 188, 35 L. Ed. 1055, it was said: ‘Indeed, it is difficult to conceive that any fixture, however solid, permanent, and closely attached to the realty, placed there for the mere purposes of trade, may not be removed at the end of the term.’

This right of removal does not extend to every article annexed by a tenant during...

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