Developers - Beware your Neighbours’ Right to Light

    Developers - Beware your Neighbours’ Right to Light

    What are your neighbours' rights and what may be the consequences of an infringement?

    A property can acquire a right to receive light through its windows. This is commonly known as 'a right of light'. It is an easy right to acquire: the windows simply have to be in place for 20 years or more.

    Like a right of way, a right to light is a type of legal easement. The property with the windows enjoys the benefit of the right, whereas its neighbouring property is burdened by the easement.

    If the neighbouring property, for example, is extended and an additional floor added, then the amount of light received through the neighbouring property's window may be reduced. The measurement of light received and which may be reduced by a neighbouring development is scientific and specialist rights of lights surveyors should be instructed to carry out the calculation.

    Where a development (anticipated or built out) might or does reduce the light to such an extent that it constitutes a legal nuisance, then the property owner would be entitled to apply to the Court for an injunction against the developer.

    Case law reports confirm that the Courts have and will order the removal of development that infringes a neighbours' right to light, irrespective of the significant cost this might incur the developer.

    The appropriate remedies to be ordered in favour of a party whose rights to light have been infringed will be considered on a case by case basis. In some cases damages (financial compensation) may be considered an appropriate remedy.

    However, a Court will not allow its powers to respond to an infringement to be curtailed simply because development has already taken place. Indeed, Judges will take the conduct of an infringing property owner very seriously: none welcomes a fait accompli!

    If you are developing a property and there is a risk that your proposals might impact upon your neighbours' light, it would be advisable to instruct a right of light specialist. This is completely independent to the planning process. Even if planning permission is granted, that does not provide a defence to a right to light claim.

    Early evaluation with an expert surveyor and thereafter dialogue with your neighbour (if advised) can commonly be the appropriate way of addressing a potential claim. Securing an early settlement which will allow the development to proceed, removing entirely the risk of a future claim or risk of an injunction following completion of the build, will be advisable in most cases.

    Should you require legal advice on a potential or actual rights of light claim, please contact Helen Williams or Anita Nixon from Porter Dodson LLP's specialist property disputes team.

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