Banksy Mural Triggers Ground Breaking Landlord and Tenant Dispute
A mural which was sprayed onto the wall of a commercial building by celebrated street artist Banksy and is estimated to be worth up to £470,000 gave rise to a High Court test case which will be required reading for landlords and tenants.
The mural was painted without permission but had been preserved under Perspex by the local authority. A company which held a 20-year lease over the building, including its exterior, removed the section of wall on which the mural appeared and exported it to America where it was held in a New York gallery.
An arts charity, which had been assigned title to the mural by the building’s freehold owner, launched proceedings to enforce its return to the UK so that it could be placed on public display. It was argued that the bricks and cement of the building’s walls were vested in the freeholder, as was the paint used to create the mural. The removal of the work was alleged to amount to an act of trespass.
The company responded that it was obliged, or at least entitled, to remove the mural in order to comply with its repairing covenants under the lease. It argued that, once separated from the building, the section of wall was transformed into an ordinary chattel which became the company’s property.
However, in upholding the charity’s arguments and ordering the mural’s return, the Court found that every part of the building had belonged to the freeholder. The mere fact that the company was discharging its repairing obligations did not serve to transfer title to the mural. The freeholder and thus the charity by assignment had the better right to the windfall represented by Banksy’s work.