Natural light can increase the value of your property. If your rights of light have been infringed upon, you may be entitled to damages or you could get an injunction to prevent the works.
We can help you find a reliable rights of light surveyor, as well as negotiating the terms of your settlement and compensation on your behalf. We even seek to recover your legal costs from the other side. If you think you may have a rights of light claim, contact one of our experts for a free, initial 30 minute telephone consultation.
What is a right of light?
A right of light is an easement that allows landowners to receive natural light that passes over neighbouring land and enters their building through defined apertures such as windows, skylights and glass roofs. Such easements of light are essentially private property rights which prevent the neighbour from obstructing the natural light to a window.
- It is NOT a right to direct sunlight
- It does not guarantee uninterrupted views
- It does NOT mean privacy from being overlooked
How do you obtain rights of light?
The law of prescription (which means that an easement comes into effect over time) is responsible for most rights to light, with anyone who has had uninterrupted light through an aperture for more than 20 years receiving the entitlement. Another way to obtain the right is by express grant, which is when your neighbour gives you the rights over their land. An implied grant, meanwhile, is when a new building gains the right without waiting 20 years. Both the express and implied variants can be granted in a transfer or a lease.
Can you make a claim?
Rights to light entitle the beneficiary to receive sufficient natural light to allow the space behind to be used for its ordinary purpose, so rooms used for different functions are entitled to different levels of light. For example, a greenhouse requires more light than a store room. Consequently, if you wish to make a claim over a neighbouring development obstructing the natural light to your property, it is not enough to show that there has been a net reduction in the amount of light available; the loss of light must amount to a nuisance in order for there to be potential for a rights of light claim.
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 rights of light depend on lumens (a historical measurement for the illumination produced by a 1 foot candle over an area one square foot). Whether a rights 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; artificial and reflected light are not included.
Developers need to complete a risk assessment for rights of light claims before the works begin, or else they could be served an injunction or required to pay compensation or even instructed to demolish the building. The damages developers may have to pay could be considerable because they are based on the percentage of extra profit that could potentially be generated by the infringement).
The court will take many factors into consideration when deciding on damages or an injunction:
- The use of the property
- The seriousness of the infringement
- The behaviour of the parties
- Public interest
In order to avoid unnecessary cost and delay, 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 should also try to negotiate formal releases from neighbours who already have rights of light (for which significant premiums may be owed). In addition, it is necessary to take out a special insurance policy for rights of light.
There are various types of insurance policy, including:
- Wait and see policies: these insure against the risk of a claim by a neighbour, but rely on having no contact with the neighbour. Since the court takes behaviour into consideration, these policies increase the risk of an injunction being granted because the developer has made no effort to communicate with the neighbour whose rights they are breaching
- Negotiating policies: these allow the developer to negotiate with the neighbour to agree a settlement. However, negotiations are time-consuming and may alert neighbours who would otherwise have been unaware of their rights under the legislation
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 a neighbouring development has interfered with your rights of light to the extent that it has caused a legal nuisance, you may have recourse to a variety of remedies:
- Injunction to prevent the works
- Damages (compensation) for the infringement
- Order to demolish the construction
As a specialist property litigation law firm, we are experienced in rights of light matters and can offer expert advice as to whether you may have a claim to financial compensation. In the meantime, should you require further information, the Law Commission has an in depth guide.