Light is something that we enjoy and take advantage of every single day without even noticing just how much we rely on it for all aspects of our daily lives. From the light that comes in through our bedroom windows to wake us up each morning to the ambiance and atmosphere it creates in our workplaces, homes and buildings, light is inescapable as it is everywhere.
But what would happen if the light that we enjoy on a daily basis was suddenly taken away from us? Our living rooms and hallways would be filled with darkness instead of the natural light that we’ve come to rely on and enjoy; it would intrinsically affect all aspects of our lives. Luckily, the law recognises the value of natural light and in many cases provides protection from obstruction.
The law has to delicately balance our right to enjoy light with the need to develop new buildings such as schools, offices and homes. When planning permission is applied for, a local planning authority will want to see evidence of how a proposed development will affect the properties nearby.
‘Right to light’ – what does this mean?
Defined as, ‘an easement that gives a landowner the right to receive light through defined apertures in buildings on his or her land”, a right to light can be acquired by common law or under the Prescription Act 1832.
The owner of a building or dwelling that contains windows that have received natural daylight from neighbouring land for 20 years or more may be entitled to prevent any development that would reduce the amount of light received by those windows.
Types of development that could reduce the light enjoyed by a dwelling could be anything from a garden shed, an extension, a wall, a fence or even part of new housing or commercial development. Problems often arise where a home extension is built without obtaining advice on whether a neighbour’s right to light would be infringed.
It is also worth noting that if a developer hasn’t taken your right to light into consideration that you could have a case for negotiating changes to the building, or even for compensation if the light in your home or building is affected.
How is your right to light measured?
One of the guides to measurement is the so-called ‘50:50 rule’. This is used for right to light cases and involves calculating the percentage of a room’s area which receives adequate light before and after development of neighbouring land. The calculations are complex and are usually made by a specialist surveyor who produces a ‘Waldram diagram’ showing the area of the relevant room which receives adequate light. If less than 50% of the room will not be adequately lit, there may be a claim against the developer.
What can I do about it?
It is strongly advisable to seek out the help of a professional as quickly as possible, such as one of the team at Dewar Hogan Solicitors in London, the only law firm in the country that deals solely with property litigation.
Dewar Hogan Solicitors have considerable experience in this field and have acted in two of the leading cases of rights to light reported in recent years. Aside from dealing with your right to light case from start to finish, they will also recommend experienced right of light surveyors to help assess whether or not you have a case.
Even if a development is still at the planning stage a right to light surveyor may be able to use 3D modeling software to calculate how the light will be affected by a development, and then calculate the ‘book value’ of the light that will be lost.
Even if planning permission has been granted for a development that might affect your right to light you can still oppose it. Depending on the reduction of light the courts may make an award of damages to compensate for the loss of light or grant an injunction restraining development.
Again, it is advisable to seek professional advice whether you are dealing with commercial developers or people you know such as your neighbours. Disputes such as these can often get particularly nasty fairly quickly, so be wary and prepare yourself with the help of a professional.
In rights to light cases, complaints should be made as quickly as possible to avoid losing any advantage. This is particularly important if you want to restrain a development.
In many cases where a development is likely to affect a neighbour’s right to light the developer will be prepared to offer compensation and costs in return for his neighbour releasing his right to light. This type of offer may well be acceptable but care should be taken when dealing with developers to avoid losing a valuable negotiating position over the amount of compensation.
Property law can be confusing, so if you think that your right to light is affected by a neighbouring development, or that it might be affected by a planned development in the future, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a professional from Dewar Hogan Solicitors as soon as possible.