2 September 2016 by John Spence

Don’t be left in the dark – Update on Rights of Light

Increasingly these days, London’s skyline is becoming populated with ever taller office blocks and blocks of flats that often dominate the surrounding neighbourhoods.  Such developments can be controversial and local residents typically pursue their objections through the planning process.  However, local residents affected by new high rise developments should not forget they may enjoy established rights of light which entitle them to obtain court injunctions against such developments, or claim substantial compensation from the developers in return for releasing their rights.

A right of light is an easement to enjoy natural light that passes across another person’s land, and then enters existing ‘apertures’ such as windows, skylights, and other openings in an adjoining property.  Such rights of light may have been expressly granted or reserved to the adjoining land, and be mentioned in the property owner’s title deeds.  Alternatively, such rights may be implied and arise over time by virtue of the legal principle of prescription.  Typically, for rights of light to arise by prescription, they have to have been continuously enjoyed for a period of at least 20 years by you and your predecessors in title.

Interference with another’s right of light constitutes a legal nuisance.  However, what amounts to an actionable interference with another’s right of light varies from case to case.  This is because the law surrounding rights of light remains complex and reliant on historical measurements involving ‘lumens’, which is the illumination given by a 1 foot candle over a square foot!  What is clear is that a right of light is not an entitlement to receive the same natural light you received before the interference, as the law does allow light levels to be reduced in a room by a neighbouring development provided there is still sufficient natural light left for the normal use of that room.  As a rule of thumb, the courts will find there to be an infringement if the room is left with less than half of its area receiving one lumen, known as the ‘50/50 rule’, which is a pretty low standard.  If a light expert finds a new development reduces the amount of natural light being received in a room to below the 50/50 minimum, then there will be a strong argument that there has been an infringement.

Most major development companies will be well aware of the potential serious impact that rights of light claims from dozens of local residents can have on their projects, and will take steps to avoid litigation.  Adjoining owners can sometimes negotiate favourable settlement payments from developers who are often prepared to pay to settle a potential claim rather than incur the costs, delay and other risks associated with court proceedings.  In such cases, developers will in addition to paying compensation usually cover your reasonable legal and professional fees in return for you entering into a formal deed of release of your rights of light.

At Bolt Burdon, we are able to advise developers as well as home owners affected by loss of light caused by large developments.  We work with a number of respected London based light experts who can advise and assist us on the negotiations between developers and adjoining home owners.                                                                    

If you wish to discuss any issues relating to rights of light, then please contact one of our solicitors in the Property Disputes team here.

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