Right To Light

Your next door neighbour, wishes to extend their property to the rear, insert a new bay window to an existing side wall and also add a loft conversion. These alterations are likely to obstruct the amount of light to your property and the planners indicate that there is no objection on planning grounds. What can you do about it?

Firstly, do you have any enforceable right to light for your window? Natural light is a commodity that can be bought, sold or even transferred between parties. Check with HM Land Registry (or the deeds to your property) to see whether there is any written right to light. Donald Trump, the American billionaire and business magnet, built Trump Tower, a 58 storey skyscraper in New York, located on the corner of 56th Street and Fifth Avenue, purchased air rights belonging to Tiffany’s flagship next door and was able to build a taller development.

Even if the Title Deeds are silent, a right to light can be acquired simply by ‘anyone, who has had uninterrupted use of something over someone else’s land for 20 years, without consent, openly and without threat and without interruption of more than a year’. Once this time limit passes, the owner of a window obtains a right to light under the Prescription Act 1832, protected in England and Wales under Common Law, Adverse Possession Rights.

Secondly, the issue is whether the neighbour’s new extension, is classified as an obstruction, whereby your room light darkens sufficiently to interfere with the ‘ordinary occupations of life.’

If a new building limits the amount of light coming in through a window and the level of light inside falls below the accepted level, then this constitutes an obstruction. Unless you waive your right, you are entitled to take legal action against your neighbour.

Broadly speaking, the minimum standard, is equivalent to the light from one candle, one foot away. Another measure is often called the ’45 degree rule’ (that is an assumed right to have natural sunlight, striking a window at more than 45 degrees from the vertical). Any kind of ‘development’, can potentially block the light coming into your home. For instance, a neighbour’s new shed, garden walls, extensions, part of a new housing or commercial development.

If the developer or neighbour, has not taken your right to light into consideration, you may have a case for compensation, or for negotiating changes to that development.

Always get professional advice, before starting legal proceedings against your neighbour, or a commercial developer. Talk to a Chartered Surveyor, a member of the RICS, who specialises in ‘right to light’ work. Your Chartered Surveyor will be able to estimate the amount of light, that is likely to be lost and whether or not you have a sufficiently strong case to go to Court. There are several specialist firms, who use a 3D model to calculate the loss of light.

For more information visit www.rics.org/righttolight.

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