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Rights to light - make sure you're not in the dark

As an increasing number of people look to develop and extend their homes1. And with inner cities becoming increasingly built up2, its important developers, landowners and home owners understand rights to light. Even if planning permission has been granted, right of light challenges can still severely stall or alter your project3.

What is right to light?

In England and Wales, a ‘right to light’ is an easement that gives landowners the right to receive light through defined apertures4, such as windows, in buildings on their land. Landowners cannot disrupt their neighbours’ rights to light. For example, they can’t erect a building in a way that blocks the light, without their neighbours’ prior consent.

Right to light applies to all properties that have received natural daylight for more than 20 years. It guarantees landowners their qualifying buildings will continue to receive natural light. If not they will be awarded compensation for their buildings’ loss of light.

In more congested cities, rights to light can save a property from suffering in the shadows of surrounding buildings, helping to retain its value and appearance.

Right to light implications and risks

Failing to consider neighbouring buildings’ ‘rights to light’ could have major implications to your company and project. If a proposed, partially built or completed property violates neighbours’ rights to light, this could result in:

  • Large compensation claims and settlements
  • A halt to construction, or in extreme cases an injunction or court order would prevent the development altogether
  • Project demolition
  • Reputational damage
  • Wasted time and money
  • Expensive legal fees.

Proposed changes to rights to light law

The Law Commission published a consultation paper in February 20135. The consultation discussed the suitability of compensation available to claimants and the effects of rights to light on the construction industry.

The Commission aimed to strike a balance between the competing interests of developers and beneficiaries of rights to light6. It proposed changes including:

  • a set notice period for right to light claims to be made
  • a statutory test to help the courts to decide the outcome of a claim.

These changes would help to make the process of a claim easier and faster. Meaning a much better result for developers. The Law Commission are awaiting a response from Government to their recommendations.

Avoiding rights of light claims

To avoid the risk of an injunction or damages claim, any potential rights of light issues should be identified at an early stage in the development process.

One of the first steps to consider should be to commission a right of light report from a surveyor7. Where possible developers should aim to construct buildings that avoid any right to light issues.

Rights to light policies can cover legal costs for claims against your business. They can also cover settlements awarded, or the cost of demolition or rebuild.

If you have any questions about rights to light, our expert construction team are here to help.

 

Sources:

1 independent.co.uk/money/spend-save/homeowners-diy-costs-home-improvement-extensions-loft-a9061576.html

2 awh.co.uk/2019/10/10/rights-of-light-what-is-it/

3 clsrs.co.uk/rights-of-light/

4 gov.uk/government/publications/rights-to-light

5 s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com//uploads/2015/rights_to_light.pdf

6 shoosmiths.co.uk/law-commissions-final-report-rights-to-light-published

7 bsdr.com/publication/rights-light-developers-beware/

8 brokerbriefcase.co.uk/contentdetails/3077/     

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