Ask the Expert- Q. Friends recently moved into their new home to find that the previous owners had removed absolutely everything – right down to the light bulbs! Is this legal?

A. What you’re really talking about here is the whole issue of fixtures and fittings which, unless it is properly understood, can sometimes be a source of friction and ill feeling - as it seems to be is in the case of your friends!

There is really only one rule where fixtures and fittings are concerned, which is that sellers are entitled to take whatever they like when they move out, as long as they didn’t undertake to leave it behind, for example by mentioning it in the property details and other marketing materials prepared by (and agreed with) the seller’s agent - the contents of which effectively become part of the contract between seller and buyer.

Another key contractual document is the fixtures and fittings list, which all sellers are required to complete at the start of the conveyancing process. This list specifically identifies all those items – carpets, perhaps, or curtain poles – which the seller intends to leave in the property. He or she can’t simply go changing their mind afterwards, and removing things that they said they were going to leave – otherwise they would be in breach of the contract. 

By the same token, however, sellers are perfectly entitled to take away anything that isn’t listed! This could easily include both light bulbs and light fittings – although it would be illegal to leave bare wires hanging out of the ceiling or walls which could present a hazard. It’s worth noting here that the same also applies to gardens – although, to be fair, few sellers insist on exercising their right to dig up every single unlisted shrub!

So, there you are. Your friends may well be rather irritated that the light bulbs were removed, and I must say it does seem rather small-minded. But illegal? I doubt it – unless, of course, the previous owners had specifically listed light bulbs among the fixtures and fittings! And even if they had – what then? It’s hardly something worth pursuing through legal channels!