Illuminating Right To Light
Entitlement to light is one of our most historic rights, with cases dating back to 1611 and potential interference with right to light should be taken into consideration when planning any development.
With the average house move in the South East estimated to cost around £16,500, many people are choosing to stay put and extend their existing home instead.
When doing so it is important to be aware of right to light, both for the householder planning the extension and any neighbours who might be affected by the development.
Right to light can only exist where there is a building with windows or other apertures that are intended to let light in – there is no right to light for open land or gardens. There is no right to receive the full extent of light enjoyed before the interference but residents are entitled to sufficient light for the normal use of the room that has suffered the loss. For example, a living room generally requires more light than a store room. As a general rule, the remaining light will be considered insufficient if it leaves less than half the affected room adequately lit.
In legal terms, a right to light is an easement. This means it can be acquired by long use (usually over 20 years) or it may be granted in the deeds for a property. Your solicitor should be able to tell you if this is the case.
If you are concerned your neighbour might acquire a right to light by long use, you can prevent it from being established by erecting a physical obstruction before the right has been used for the requisite number of years. Or you can add a light obstruction notice to the local land charges register against your neighbour’s property.
In order to decide if there has there been an actionable interference with the right to light you will likely need to engage the services of a specialist surveyor.
The primary remedy for an infringement of right to light is an injunction, whether the building work has already taken place or not.
There is no standard measure of “sufficient light” and the court has complete discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis. If an injunction is not awarded, the court can award damages in lieu of an injunction. Delay in taking action may rule out an injunction being granted. However, it may still be possible to claim compensation where a right to light has been infringed, providing action is taken within six years of the infringement. However, the compensation may be less than would have been the case had the claim been brought swiftly.
This is a very complicated legal area and case law is changing constantly, so it is imperative to obtain detailed advice from a specialist on any specific case.
As first seen in the Kent & Sussex Courier on 23rd October 2015.