In England and Wales, it is common for holders of interests in land, whether landlords or tenants, to hold a right to receive reasonable levels of natural light onto the premises. This is commonplace for residential properties. The holders of such rights hold the potential to challenge developments on adjacent properties that infringe upon them.
Extent of the rights of light
It is imperative to note that rights to light do not entail a right against construction of overlooking buildings, or obstruction of views from windows. Rather, it indicates a degree of exposure to natural light. The actual appropriate levels can be determined by expert analysis.
Acquisition of rights to light
Rights to light can either be acquired through (1) express or implied grant or (2) prescription.
A landlord may expressly or by implication grant such rights when agreeing a lease for a new tenant. On the other hand, if access to natural light has been in existence for a long period of time, a right may arise through operation of the doctrine of prescription. Under English & Welsh statutory and common law, after a 20-year period of use the doctrine can operate to provide an enforceable right to the occupier of the land.
Disputes over rights of light
Of particular concern to developers is whether they are infringing on the rights of light held by neighbouring proprietors. This can be a legal impediment even where planning permission has been approved.
Right – holders remedies
If a developer opts to proceed with construction, several remedies may be available to the right holder of a neighbouring property, including:
- an injunction against the developer, either in whole or in part; or
- damages to the right-holder for their loss of enjoyment of the right.
There are several means of overriding neighbouring rights of light available to developers:
- The Rights of Light Act 1959 provides the Light Obstruction Notice mechanism. This method involves application to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to identify adjacent properties that could be affected by development. Once identified, the developer will serve notices on those properties indicating they have one year to challenge the development. If they fail to do so, they will lose their abilities to enforce their rights.
- A landlord may seek agreements with adjacent property holders to waive their right to enforce in the form of a release. This may entail substantial financial cost however.
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Facing challenge from rights of light holds on adjacent property can be a key impediment to successful completion of a development. Conversely, residential property owners should be aware that infringements of their enjoyment of their property could be legally contested.
At Lewis Nedas, our team of Property Litigation Solicitors have broad experience in both commercial and residential property litigation. We have successfully advised clients with highly complex and multi-faceted cases. To speak with one of our Property Lawyers, please contact us on 020 7387 2032 or complete our online enquiry form.