Right to light is a right over land that doesn’t belong to you, that entitles you to natural light to your property, and can be a right over your neighbour’s property, or your neighbours right to light over your property.
The issue usually becomes apparent when a developer wants to build on a site that adjoins existing property on land that enjoy rights of light over the development site. The developer can't interfere with the neighbour’s right to light (by building in a way that blocks light) unless it has the benefiting owner's consent.
If a developer ignores the adjointing owners rights and proceeds with construction, a successful claim against it can result in an injunction preventing futher construction and/or a demolition order for any part of the construction which constitutes a breach.
The Law Commission is proposing changes to the law surrounding rights to light, including:
- abolition of the ability to acquire a right to light solely on the basis that it has been previously enjoyed for a prescribed period;
- introduction of a new test to determine when the courts can grant damages instead of halting construction or the demolition of an obstructing building;
- allowing historic rights to light without practical benefit to be extinguished.
Developers are welcoming the Law Commission's proposals because the changes would make dealing with rights to light easier, however, this could be bad news for property owners because the value of their homes could be reduced developments proceed nearby.
The Government need to be pursuaded that the negative effect of rights to light disputes is significant enough that it should act on the Law Commission’s recommendations, and with this in mind, the Law Commission is running a consultation to determine:
- the effect of rights to light on development funding
- how rights to light delay construction projects
- the cost of rights to light disputes
- the cost of alternative dispute resolution in rights to light disputes
- the financial and amenity value of light
The Law Commission indicate that if the project proceeds to a final report with a draft bill that publication will be in late 2014.