Real Estate Disputes
Rights of Light for Homeowners – FAQ
What is a right of light?
A right of light is a right (‘easement’) to enjoy natural light that passes across another person’s land, and then enters existing ‘apertures’ in buildings such as windows, skylights, and other openings in an adjoining property. Such rights of light may have been mentioned in the property owner’s title deeds. Alternatively, such rights may be implied and arise over time under the legal principle called ‘prescription’. Typically, for rights of light to arise by prescription, they have to have been continuously enjoyed without interruption for a period of at least 20 years by you and the previous owner(s) of your property.
What if I am concerned about a new development and I am contacted by a developer?
If you are contacted by a developer inviting you to enter into negotiations with them to release your rights of light in return for compensation, then you should seek legal advice on your rights and 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 in addition to paying compensation usually cover your reasonable legal and professional fees in return for you entering into a formal legal document giving up your rights of light.
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.
We can negotiate the terms of your settlement and compensation for you, and assist you in finding the right light expert and surveyor to assess how much compensation you are entitled to.
How is loss of light measured?
Interference with or the reduction of another’s right of light is called a ‘legal nuisance’, but not all interference gives rise to a right to make a claim – each are treated on a case by case basis. 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 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 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 and entitlement to compensation.
How much compensation is payable for loss of light?
The amount of compensation due to any home owner 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 of light claim, 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.