This brief article on rights of light is for anyone considering development to their property or land, whether residential or commercial.  If you are thinking of developing land for housing, or simply an extension to your home, you ought to consider rights of light.

The article may also be useful for anybody whose light is affected or is likely to be affected by a nearby property development (this includes not just individuals but also corporate bodies such as companies).

What is a right of light?

A right of light is a property right over somebody else’s land.  They are similar to rights of way, but the rules surrounding and claiming them can be more complex.  This article is not designed to tell you how rights of light can be acquired, but rather to advise on the risks of proceeding with any development without adequately considering those rights.

For example: you are a developer who has purchased land for development or you are extending your home.  You have been through the time-consuming and expensive application for planning permission, which has been granted, and your application included a daylight and sunlight report from a right of light surveyor.  Nearby home owners did not object to your application.  You are ready to proceed – correct?

No! At this stage your neighbours are still potentially entitled to issue legal proceedings against you to either stop your build entirely (by way of an injunction) or to claim monetary compensation from you as damages for loss of light.  Private rights of light claims exist regardless of whether planning permission has been granted for a development.

Having said that, a claim is only likely where:

  1. Your proposed development reduces the light received to the neighbour’s property to below a certain level (an “actionable” level); and
  2. The neighbouring property has in fact acquired the legal right to claim a right of light over your land.

To avoid Court proceedings you would usually be advised to “settle” any potential rights of light claims which have a reasonable prospect of success, and this usually involves a payment of money to the neighbour.  In return, the neighbour “releases” their rights of light over your property.

The payment to the affected neighbour(s) will include a sum for compensation for loss of light (calculated by specialist surveyors) and usually will include payment of the neighbour’s surveying and legal fees.  This is in addition to your legal and surveying fees.  Often such unforeseen settlements will significantly increase the build cost, will reduce profit for any commercial developer, and may simply make your average home owner’s dream to extend their property financially impossible.

What can you do to minimise the rights?

If you are purchasing land with the intention to develop, or if you are planning any form of extension to your home, we recommend an investigation into the potential rights of light enjoyed by other parties over your land.  If legal rights of light are likely to exist  between your property and surrounding properties we would also suggest that you engage a specialist right of light surveyor to assess whether your proposed build will affect any neighbouring property to an actionable level, and if so, what steps could be taken to minimise any injury to the neighbour’s light.

Following on from this, we can advise you on the next best steps to take in relation to your development.

Sometimes an insurance policy can be obtained to cover you for the risks of right of light claims by affected parties, but any insurance policy ought to be obtained well before your intended development. A delay in seeking an insurance policy could affect your likelihood of obtaining such cover.  In addition, if you have engaged in any sort of correspondence with your neighbours regarding potential rights of light claims then this could affect your ability to obtain insurance cover.  Please speak to us if you would like further information.

For affected parties.

The flip-side to the above is that if you live in a property, or own property which might be affected by a nearby development (and this includes owners of leasehold properties) then we can advise you on the merits and likelihood of success of any claim against a developer for a potential loss of light to your property.

We have an experienced right of light specialist here at Paul Robinson Solicitors LLP and therefore if you require any further information or simply want to discuss rights of light in relation to a particular development then please do not hesitate to contact us.

01702 662963 (Essex)  020 35537115 (London)