In the dark about your rights to light? If so, we have the expert knowledge to help illuminate matters.
Many property owners will have a legal ‘right to light’, often without realising it. Therefore, if there is a risk that a proposed development on neighbouring land could interfere with that right, the property owner may be able to apply to the Court for an injunction to prevent this happening, or seek monetary compensation for the loss of their right.
A right to light is what is known in law as an “easement”. An easement is a right benefitting a piece of land that is enjoyed over somebody else’s land. By way of example, in context of a right to light - one property owner may have a right to enjoy the natural light which passes over his neighbour’s land and enters through his window. Therefore, if such a right were to exist, the property owner may legally be able to prevent his neighbour from doing anything which would amount to a “substantial interference” with his right – such as erecting a building which would obstruct the light from entering his window.
Sound straightforward so far? It isn’t! The law in this area is really quite complex. Case law over a century old provides the beneficiary with a right to receive sufficient light through the aperture (e.g. window) allowing the room to be used for its “normal purpose” – as such different rooms could be entitled to receive different levels of light. A telling example of this is provided in the case of Allen v Greenwood  Ch. 119, in which the point was made that a greenhouse requires more light than a store room. Therefore, for a property owner to successfully thwart a neighbouring development on account of his right to light, he would need to do more than simply show that his available light would be reduced – he would need to show that the loss of light would amount to a nuisance.
It is also important to note that there are certain factors which are not taken into account when considering a right to light - for example, there is no legal right to direct sunlight, nor does a right to light protect a particular view or safeguard privacy.
So, who has a right to light? The right can be acquired in a number of different ways. Perhaps the most common though, comes under the Prescription Act 1832 which provides that a right of light can be acquired if the light has been enjoyed without interruption for a period of 20 years (provided the light has been enjoyed as of right and without written consent).
The right to light is a hot topic in the High Court and was recently considered in the case of Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd v RMC FH Co Ltd  EWCH 2609 (Ch). In this case, a leaseholder was happy to give up their right to light to a developer who wished to develop a nearby site. However, the freeholder of the property asserted that in doing so the tenant was in breach of the terms of their lease. The decision of the Court was that the right to light belonged to the freeholder. The tenant was prevented from releasing the right to the developer. Therefore, from a developer’s point of view, it is crucial to ensure that the correct person is approached should the developer seek to negotiate a release of the right – it may be that both landlord and tenant need to be consulted.
If you think you have a right to light, and fear that a proposed development may interfere with that right, or if you are a developer who is concerned that your proposed development may interfere with somebody else’s right to light, our specialist Property Disputes Team including myself, Sabina Haag and Calum Paterson, as well as our planning consultant, Alan Irvine, would be more than happy to assist and advise you of your rights and responsibilities, get in touch on 01603 610911.
Note: the content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.