27 August 2021 by Darren Coleran

Right to light for homeowners


What is a right to light?

A right to light is a right to enjoy natural light that passes across another person’s land and then enters existing ‘apertures’ in adjoining buildings such as windows, skylights and other openings.  These rights may be mentioned in the property owner’s title deeds or they may be implied and arise over time under a legal principle called ‘prescription’.  Typically, for a right to light to arise by prescription, it must have been enjoyed without interruption for at least 20 years.


What if I am concerned about a new development and I am contacted by a developer?

If a developer contacts you and proposes that you release your right to light in return for compensation, you should seek legal advice on your options.

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 usually also cover your reasonable legal and professional fees in return for you entering into a formal legal document giving up your right to light.

Most major development companies will be well aware of the potential serious impact that right to light claims from dozens of local residents can have on their projects.  We can negotiate the terms of your settlement and compensation for you and assist you in finding the right expert and surveyor to assess how much compensation you are entitled to.


How is loss of light measured?

Not all interference with another person’s light gives rise to a right to make a claim.  This is because the law surrounding rights to light remains complex and reliant on historical measurements involving ‘lumens’, which is the illumination given by a 1 foot candle over a square foot.

A right to light is not an entitlement to receive the same natural light you received before the development, 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 is 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 and entitlement to compensation. 


How much compensation is payable for loss of light?

The amount of compensation due to any homeowner affected by loss of light depends on the facts of each case.  Compensation can range from a few thousand pounds to tens of thousands of pounds depending on the level of the infringement of light.

It may be sensible to take independent tax advice before entering into any agreement and receiving compensation.  We can put you in contact with a tax expert.


What remedies do you have to prevent interference with your rights?

Whilst the majority of cases we deal with result in a successful settlement, in a few cases a settlement cannot be reached and development works are commenced.

If, following a review of the title deeds and obtaining a light expert’s opinion, it is found that a right to light does exist, the courts can order the removal of the development or part of the development if built (even if constructed with planning permission), or prevent the obstruction if not built.  This usually only happens in cases of severe loss of light.  Alternatively, and often more likely, a person may receive financial compensation in the form of damages in lieu of removal.

If you have any questions about any of these points, please feel free to contact Darren Coleran in our Real Estate Disputes team.

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