Do you have the Right to Light?

Posted on May 18, 2016.

Firstly you might be wondering what is the ‘right to light’? A right to light may be acquired by ‘anyone who has had uninterrupted use of something over someone else’s land for 20 years without consent, openly and without threat, and without interruption for more than a year.’ Your right to light is protected under common law, adverse possession and in England and Wales by the Prescription Act 1832. There is no statutory right to light in Scotland. If a new building limits the amount of light coming in through a window and the level of light inside falls below the accepted level, then this constitutes an obstruction. Unless you waive your rights you are entitled to take legal action against your neighbour. Any kind of ‘development’ can potentially block the light coming into your home. For instance: • a neighbour’s new shed • garden walls • extensions • part of a new housing or commercial development. If the developer hasn’t taken your right to light into consideration, you may have a case for compensation or for negotiating changes to that development to safeguard your light. Home extensions are a common cause of right to light disputes as homeowners may employ a local building firm to extend their property without knowing the development could affect their neighbours. The most common problem is where the neighbour has a window to the side of their house to which the light is blocked by a high wall. On a small building project, people rarely employ a right to light specialist – the first they know of a problem is when they receive a letter from their neighbour’s solicitor. The most likely remedy to a loss of a right to light is an injunction. Courts do not like to award damages in such cases, as this could be seen as a developer being able to ‘buy’ the rights of another. However if damages are awarded, they may be based on: The use and purpose (historical) of the rooms affected by the infringement. The loss of natural light power over the affected by the obstruction. The additional value to the property of the servient offender. This may be a proportion of the developers profits, where the proportion relates to the amount of floor space that the developer could not have built if they had not infringed on the right to light of their neighbour. Any loss of residual value to the dominant property The law and possible remedies surrounding rights to light are not straight forward. There are complications in relation to some Crown land, statutory bodies and compulsory purchase, and under certain circumstances developers can obtain light obstruction notices. If it is possible that a development will encounter rights to light issues, a right to light consultant can be appointed to give expert advice. In practice the dominant property by means of an interlocutory injunction can hold up a development for a very long time while it takes its case to court. Time is money and the delay while the legal case goes through the courts, particularly if it is appealed, can bring everything to a halt. So a negotiation takes place with the dominant owner’s team having a pretty good idea of the value of the infringement to the servient owner and a deal is done or the design is changed to step back any light obstructing structures. Global Guardians adhere to the Prescription Act 1832 by ensuring all of our licensees have the right to light. We make sure all of our guardians are placed in buildings with windows, light and space to live comfortably.