As a specialist property litigation law firm, we are experienced in rights of light matters and can offer expert advice. If you think you may have or may face a rights of light claim, please call us on 020 7963 8690 for a FREE 30 minute telephone consultation with one of our expert solicitors.
What is a right of light?
A right of light is an easement that allows landowners to enjoy natural light that passes over neighbouring land and enters their building through defined apertures such as windows, skylights and glass roofs. Such an easement is a private property right which can prevent neighbours from materially obstructing natural light. A right of light:
- is not a right to direct sunlight
- does not guarantee uninterrupted views
- does not mean privacy from being overlooked
How do you obtain rights of light?
There are several methods by which a property may acquire the right of light.
The law of prescription (which means that an easement comes into effect over time) is responsible for a large amount of acquisitions of the right to light, allowing those who have benefited from natural light through an aperture for more than 20 years without interruption and consent to claim to have acquired it.
Another way to acquire the right of light is by express grant, or by an implied grant. Both the express and implied variants can be granted in a transfer or a lease. A lot of modern buildings may also be capable of acquiring the right of light through the principle of transfer, where it may be possible to show coincidence between the new apertures and the historic ones.
Can you make a claim?
Once the right of light has been acquired (providing it has not been extinguished or otherwise lost), in order to bring a claim for the interference with that right you need to establish that a neighbouring development is obstructing the light to your property to the extent that it amounts to a nuisance.
What counts as a nuisance?
Obstructing the passage of natural light can create a nuisance.
However, not all interference with natural light leads to a claim because the right of light depends on lumens (a historical measurement for the illumination produced by a 1 foot candle over an area one square foot). Whether a right of light case can be taken to court is based on the amount of light reduction by this measure, the area of the room, and the function of the space, an assessment for which a rights of light surveyor is needed.
The law only takes into account natural light from the sky, not artificial or reflected light.
Developers need to complete a risk assessment for the potential right of light claims before the development works begin, or else they could end up with an injunction ordering them to demolish the building (or part of it), or they might be ordered to pay damages in lieu of the injunction. The damages developers may have to pay could be considerable because they can be based on the percentage of their profit that would be generated by allowing them to retain the building that continues to interfere with the right of light.
The court will take many factors into consideration when deciding whether to make an order for damages or an injunction, such as:
- The use of the property
- The seriousness of the infringement
- The behaviour of the parties
- Public interest
In order to avoid unnecessary costs and delays, therefore, it is imperative that developers seek expert advice from specialist surveyors and solicitors from the outset. Developers can prevent neighbours from obtaining rights of light by serving a light obstruction notice. They could also try to negotiate formal releases from neighbours who already have acquired the right of light. In addition, it may be advisable to take out a special insurance policy for rights of light.
Finally, for large developments in the public interest, developers can apply to the local planning authority to exercise their statutory power under section 203 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to override rights of light. However, this is a last resort because it involves transferring ownership to the local planning authority.
If your rights of light have been interfered with
If your right of light has been interfered with by a development or an obstruction to the extent that it has caused a legal nuisance, you may have recourse to a variety of remedies:
- An injunction to prevent, modify or demlish the development
- Damages (compensation)
If damages are the remedy you choose to obtain, we can help you find a reliable right of light surveyor to advise upon the appropriate level of damages and assist you with formalising settlement discussions in the deed of release. We will seek to recover our legal costs for assisting you from the other side. If on the other hand an injunction is your chosen remedy, we can advise you upon the claim, prepare court proceedings, and represent you in the litigation.
If you require further information, the Law Commission has an in depth guide.