Understanding what a right to light is
A right to light is a legal right to a particular amount of light in a room or space. Using the 50:50 rule, a right to light injury is defined as loss of light, when the light within a room is reduced to less than 50% of the original amount. Not everyone has a legal right to light so it’s best to check.
How can you acquire a right to light?
Most commonly, a legal right to light will be acquired by anyone who has enjoyed uninterrupted light through an opening (without specific consent, openly and without threat, and without interruption) for more than 20 years. However, there are alternative means of obtaining a legal right of light such as by express grant or implied grant; these alternatives can mean that a new building can immediately have rights of light without having enjoyed light through openings for 20 years.
Rights of light for new builds
There are alternative means of obtaining a legal right of light, such as by express grant or implied grant; these alternatives can mean that a new building can immediately have rights of light without having enjoyed light through openings for 20 years.
Right to light vs daylight & sunlight
Right to light is very different to daylight or sunlight assessments, as right to light includes any room or space including bathrooms, garages and stairwells. Whereas daylight or sunlight assessments only focus on the light attained in habitable rooms.
How can right to light injuries or infringements occur?
It can often be the case that relatively minor house extensions can be the cause of a right to light dispute. For example, a homeowner may proceed with the construction of a fairly modest side extension, only to find out part-way through that the development would cause a legal injury to their neighbour’s house.
Right to Light is a specialist area about which many Surveyors, Architects and Planning Officers are relatively unaware and, as a consequence, a scheme can pass through the design, drawing and tendering phases without anybody even considering legal rights of light – we are regularly involved with projects where exactly this has happened. It should be noted that, just because a scheme has planning permission does not mean that there might not be legal right to light issues.
What happens when a right to light injury has occurred?
The possible remedies for a successful action, in respect of a legal right to light claim, can be an injunction and/or compensation. If it can be demonstrated that there has been a legal injury to a rooms light, at a minimum, compensation would be payable to the neighbour who has lost light to their home. There are some notable cases where a Judge has ordered for the partial demolition of a completed development as a result of a successful right of light action. This means it is worth seeking advice before the build starts, if you are the developer or builder of an extension or new build property.
When to consider your right to light
Right to Light is a specialist area about which many Surveyors, Architects and Planning Officers are relatively unaware. As a consequence, a scheme can pass through the design, drawing and tendering phases without anybody even considering legal rights of light. Many of our clients have made it to this stage of their build before seeking advice from our team.
Right to light laws in England and Wales
A legal right to light is protected in England and Wales under common law, adverse possession or by the Prescription Act 1832. If a development limits the amount of light coming in through a window by less than approximately half, this would constitute a legal injury which would mean that the neighbour to a development would be entitled to compensation or an injunction against the developer.
If you would like to speak to our team about a neighbours extension, or if you’re a developer looking to ensure you don’t cause a right to light injury for your team, contact us.