Expert advice - right to light
If you are a home owner developing your property or your neighbour is carrying out some work to their property, it's important you both understand where you stand with regards to the right to light. We catch up with the Right of Light Consulting who are a team of Chartered Surveyors specialising in all aspects of the right to light.
What is the right to light?
In England and Wales, a right to light is usually acquired under the Prescription Act 1832. Under the Act, a right to light usually occurs once light has been enjoyed through defined apertures of a building for an uninterrupted period of 20 years.
Once a right to light has been obtained, the building obtains an automatic right to continue to receive a certain amount of daylight. An interference with the right of light may give the owner the right to seek an injunction to have the proposed development reduced in size. Or, in some circumstances, a court may decide to award compensation instead of an injunction.
A right to light is a civil matter and is separate from daylight and sunlight as considered by Local Planning Authorities. Rights of light must therefore be considered even if the planning permission has been granted. Rights of light can affect both domestic and non-domestic properties – even non habitable rooms are capable of enjoying a right of light.
When does the right to light issue arise?
Rights of light disputes often occur where developments or property extension proceed without rights to light being considered. People are often not aware that they need to consider rights to light. There is a common misconception that once planning permission has been granted, it is no longer necessary to consider the impact on the neighbours’ light.
Do I need to submit paperwork to get my neighbour to approve?
There is no statutory process for dealing with right of light issues (as in the case with Party Walls etc). Instead, if right of light issues need to be addressed, this is normally done between the neighbours and through solicitors or right of light consultants. If neighbouring windows are approaching 20 years, then it is possible to prevent acquisition of rights of light by erecting a building, or serving what is known as a Light Obstruction Notice (LON).
When in the process of my building work can my neighbour object on the grounds of blocking their light?
Neighbours can object during the planning and design stage, during the building process, or even once the building works are complete. However, it is considered that a court is more likely to award compensation instead of an injunction, if the neighbour has delayed in bringing their claim.
What are the rules around the right to light?
Rights to light are usually acquired after 20 years. Please note that it is the age of the structural opening that matters. If the glazing and window frames are less than 20 years old this will not affect the strength of the case. It is sometimes possible for rights to light to be inherited by a new building if there was once and older building that stood in its place with windows in similar positions.
The right is to a certain amount of light and not to all of the light that was once enjoyed. Broadly speaking a room is entitled to receive adequate daylight to around 50% of its area. Adequate daylight is defined as being equivalent to 0.2% of the sky’s overall illuminance. Mathematical calculations are used to determine whether or not a development causes an infringement. For speed and accuracy, rights to light calculations are undertaken using specialist computer software.
What happens if my neighbour objects?
The best cause of action is to have a right of light study completed prior to developing, as this will provide you with the impact of your proposal on your neighbour’s property. This will help you with any discussions, compensation negotiations or other remedies you may seek. If rights to light are ignored, you run the risk of an injunction from the neighbour to halt the development/extension and may even have to take the building work down.
How can I resolve the issue with my neighbour?
When you know the size of the injury the development is causing, you will be in a better place to negotiate with them. There are many options that can be used to negotiate from some design changes to reduce the injury impact or financial compensation through to completing some building work for them.
Anything else I should be aware of?
The courts often consider the actions and behaviour of both parties if a dispute is taken to court, so cooperative dialogue is beneficial at all times.