Neighbour’s Extension Blocking Light – You May Have A Legal Right to Light

When you bought your home, the way the light fills a room likely greatly impacted your purchasing decision. Now you probably love to spend time reading a good book or the newspaper in the natural light pouring into your sitting room or dining area. This is what attracted you to the house in the first place.

Or if you own a commercial property filled with well-lit meeting rooms, bright office space or a welcoming entrance, you do not want your perfect atmosphere to be jeopardised. 

But if a neighbouring property is planning a new development close to your building, we understand your concern about the loss of light in your rooms. Beyond your own enjoyment of the light in your property, you will also likely consider the potential impact on the value or marketability of your building. 

Can a Neighbour Cause a Right to Light Injury? 

Your neighbours will have their own reasons for wishing to develop their site/property, but understandably you want to ensure your home or commercial property is protected against adverse impact from the loss of light. A right-to-light injury may be inflicted if your neighbour develops or extends their property, blocking the natural light to your property. 

If a neighbouring scheme does manage to gain planning permission, all may not be lost. Outside of planning laws, you may have a legal right to light.

Do I Have Grounds for a Right to Light Case?

You could raise a right-to-light objection and be successful if your property has a legal right to light. There are numerous ways a property can acquire a right to light. Sometimes this is via implied or express grants, often noted in your and your neighbours title deeds. It is always worth checking these documents to see if you may have some form of protection via this route.

However, the most common way for a property to have a Right to Light is by gaining it via The Prescription Act of 1832. To acquire this right, in very simple terms, your window openings must have been present (and unobstructed) for 20 years. If your window openings are not quite yet 20 years old but have been there for 19 years and 1 day, or more, you will acquire a right to light at Year 20.

Have you been contacted by a developer?

Sometimes, developers will try and settle neighbours’ right to light matters up front, and in such cases, they (or their agents) may write to you. If you have received a letter from a developer, you may still be unsure about your options and need the advice of a third party. That is where we come in. 

At Smith Marston, our expert right-to-light surveyors can offer advice and guidance on right-to-light disputes with neighbouring developments and your options for objection. For further advice, contact us directly.

For more information regarding right-to-light matters for neighbouring developments, find the answers to some of our frequently asked questions. If you have a query or circumstance not addressed here, get in touch for specialist guidance and learn how we can help you. 

Contact us to find out more

If you have any drawings or photos please email them to [email protected]

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“I have worked with Smith Marston and in particular Adrian Marston on a number of rights of light matters and have always found his knowledge of this specialist area to be first class. This coupled with Smith Marston’s very high service standards have enabled us to secure some excellent results in taking preventative action to safeguard legal rights that would otherwise have been infringed. One particular example involved taking steps to require a development to be halted and, ultimately, reversed, primarily on the evidence contained within Adrian’s report as to current and potential future losses. Adrian’s reports cut through a lot of the complicated jargon often used in these matters and presents the information necessary to take effective action in a clear and logical way. I would not hesitate in recommending him.”

James Beat, Partner, Child & Child
“I used Smith-Marston for a Right to Light matter in 2015. A neighbour to my mother had planning permission for a two-storey extension close to her bungalow. Adrian’s assessments showed that her natural light, in some key areas of the house, would be reduced from 65% to 18% because of the development. Adrian’s dealings with the very determined neighbour and his equally determined surveyor were always polite, professional, and VERY effective. As a result, the planned extension was reduced to a single-storey with little or no effect on Right to Light. Very satisfied and grateful.”
Gus Gresham, Party Wall Surveyor
“Dear Adrian, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your team for such an efficient proactive survey, and invaluable advice. We are delighted our neighbours have started to remove their first-floor extension, work is almost complete. Hopefully going forward we will not need such a service but if we did we would not hesitate in using your company again and would certainly recommend you to all. Thanks again.”
Mrs C, Cheshire
“Dear Mr Smith, we remain very grateful to you for your professional advice but also would like to thank you and your colleague Adrian Marston for your many kindnesses and patience when clarifying technical and legal issues. We greatly appreciate your help and support, without which we doubt that we would have persisted this far.”
Mrs H, Hull
“I instructed Adrian as an expert in a Right to Light case involving commercial property in Newcastle. Adrian’s specialist knowledge of this field, attention to detail and commercial advice were invaluable in achieving a good outcome for my client.”
Ursula Collie, Ursula Collie Mediation

Frequently Asked Questions

A ‘right to light’ takes no account of sunlight, overshadowing or orientation.  It relates ONLY to view of the sky, and only to rooms served by a window (or glazed door) opening.  As such, concerns regarding loss of sunlight to windows, or to external for amenity areas such as gardens and patios, are not covered by right to light law.  You may have grounds for objecting on planning grounds, for loss of sunlight to windows and gardens, but, if Planning Permission has been granted, (or is not required), a ‘right to light’ will not help you with sunlight concerns.  Of course, having a legal right to light may ultimately help you if you can prove your view of the sky will be diminished to a certain level.

Under most circumstances, no.  A legal right to light is most commonly gained by enjoying light continuously for 20 years.  Properties that are less than 20 years of age will not normally have a right to light, unless you can demonstrate you have a right to light by other means.  This could be by having an express right granted in your property deeds, or, you may have an implied right due to a transactional sale of land.  If your property stands in place of an old building that did previously have a right to light (but was demolished), and the new windows are positioned in the same location as the old ones, the old right to light may have transferred to your new property.

Your scenario is a typical one. In probably 9 out of 10 cases, the answer would normally be ‘no’. The reason for this is that a legal right to light (acquired via the passage of 20 years-time and under the Prescription Act 1832) measures how much of your dining room, at a ‘working plane’ of 850mm above floor level (about desk height), can see a little bit of sky (0.2% of the dome of the sky). Only if your room can no longer see this small amount of sky over 50-55% of its area will you have a case.

In the scenario you describe, you may find you will lose ‘some’ view of the sky when looking towards your neighbours planned extension, but, most probably, your view of the sky when looking straight out of your dining room window, across you rear garden, and in the other direction, will remain unchanged. When looking in these other directions, it is likely that the view of the sky will still be visible in your room over more than half its floor area (at the working plane). Most legal right to light problems occur when a development is ‘opposite and close’ to a window.

The exception to this is when your room is very deep and/or dark to begin with. In such situations, it is possible that your room is inadequately lit even before your neighbour builds their extension. If so, any further loss of sky view may make your already bad situation worse, which could result in a legal injury and thus give you a case.

You do not have a right to a ‘view’.  However, if you have a right to ‘light’, and if you can demonstrate a loss severe enough to cause a legal injury, this may assist you with an injunction which clearly could have the end result of not only protecting your ‘light’ but also your ‘view’.

Unfortunately, this is correct.  The Local Authority Planning Department do not assess legal easements.  A right to light is an easement.  They should assess the impact of the development upon your amenity, thus, the daylight and sunlight that your home enjoys.  Thus, you may find that despite satisfying planning policies, legal injuries to your legal ‘right to light’ may still occur.  This is not uncommon.  We come across this day in day out.  We regularly see situations where people have gained Planning Permission, Building Regulation Approval, have a Party Wall Award in place, and still end up falling foul of legal right to light matters.  Thus, if you are still concerned, even if your neighbour gets planning permission (whether this be a small domestic extension or for example, a large commercial development such as a block of apartments, or a hotel), all is not lost.  You may still have a legal right to light case.

Absolutely not.  If your right to light was gained via the Prescription Act 1832 (20 years continuous enjoyment), you will lose it if it is blocked for 12 months.  Therefore, you must assert your rights immediately.  If matters were to end up in Court, actions of both parties to the dispute will be closely looked at.  Thus, if you remained silent, and did nothing to assert your legal rights until for example, the works had progressed, you may find it harder to get an injunction than if you had raised the subject before the neighbour made a commitment to their scheme.  Courts like to see parties playing ‘fair’.  If they feel you raised a matter ‘too late in the day’, they may consider it would be oppressive to the developer to grant an injunction.  So, if you have concerns – make them known.

When Local Authorities assess planning applications, they are only concerned with the impact that an applicant’s proposals will have upon the amenity to ‘habitable’ rooms in your home. So, whilst you may lose daylight and sunlight to your hall/landing/bathroom, these are classed as ‘non-habitable’ areas, and as such, the impact upon these areas will not be considered at a Planning Application. Often small kitchens (usually less that 13sq.m and not large enough to accommodate, for example, a dining table) are also classed as ‘non-habitable’ and will not be considered.

No, as a neighbour, you have no right to appeal against a Planning Permission that has gained approval. You can challenge the decision within 6 weeks by pursuing Judicial Review, but this can only be pursued if you have a strong case and can demonstrate that the Council have, for example, not abided by its planning policies. This course of action is the equivalent of bringing legal action against the Local Authority, and so is not something to be taken lightly as the costs in pursuing this option could be huge, and, if the decision were to go against you, you could be liable for the Council’s costs.

Unfortunately, this is correct. The Local Authority Planning Department is not obliged or able to assess legal easements (a right to light is an easement); they must assess a planning application based upon compliance with their planning policies. The inclusion of your concern regarding the impact upon your right to light in your objection will therefore not be considered.  However, it does illustrate your concerns to your neighbour, who will become aware of your concern. If matters progress to a legal right to light dispute, having raised this point early in the application process will not harm and will leave a paper trail demonstrating your opposition to the development and how important you feel about your right to light. However, you should also write to your neighbour directly outside of the planning process to make them aware of your right to light concerns.

Technical Information on Right of Light Matters

Assistance for Neighbours to a Development

If a neighbour to a development has a room which would suffer a legal injury in respect of right of light they are entitled to compensation or an injunction to prevent the offending part of the development from being constructed.

This stands true even if the developer is a multi-national company and the neighbour is an individual with a legal injury in terms of loss of light to just one room. There are cases where a Judge has ordered a partial demolition of a development even after its completion and occupation. An example of this is a court ruling against Highcross in Leeds. Notably, an appeal which was due to be held at the end of March 2011 was cancelled due to an out-of-court settlement – this means that the original court ruling remains unchallenged and the case law from that (an injunction against the developer in respect of a neighbouring commercial property) stands.

At Smith Marston, we are able to carry out a wide range of services from an initial assessment of the facts to determine whether there would, in fact, be a legal right to light injury onwards to negotiating with the developer to agree a change to the design of the building or for compensation. Normally, any agreement would also include reimbursement of associated professional fees.

We can assess other professional’s right to light assessments or we can carry out our own full and detailed rights of light calculations. We can also act in the role of Expert Witness if the matter were to proceed all of the way to Court.

Expert Witness

Although most right of light disputes are settled out of Court, there are occasions where the dispute does proceed to Court and a CPR35 standard Expert Witness report will be required.

To be valid for inclusion within a Court submission, an Expert Witness report must be in compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules part 35 (CPR35).

At Smith Marston, we are able to provide Right to Light Expert Witness reports and have had disputes proceed to Court in the past.

Philip Smith, one of the two Directors at Smith Marston, has over 20 years of experience of producing Expert Witness reports and he has been accepted onto the RICS Expert Witness Registration Scheme, confirming the necessary level of expertise to act in this respect.