Right to light – let the sunshine in
The term ‘right to light’ is bandied around in the construction and developer circles, but is often given more prominence than it may deserve.
A right to light is the right to receive light over another person’s land to particular windows in a building. Legally, there are two points to begin with:
1. There has to be an aperture (window) in the building for the right to benefit.
2. The right is to preserve ‘comfortable or beneficial use’ of the room in question. The right does not mean that light to that room cannot be reduced, and this is where the threshold comes in.
If the legal threshold for ‘comfortable or beneficial use’ is not breached – even with the new structure in place on the adjacent property – then any right to light for the building in question has not been prejudiced, whether or not that right exists in the deeds to the property or by implication in law.
The test is – has the amount of light been sufficiently reduced to bring it below the required legal threshold?
It is generally accepted that a claim can be brought if the result of the new obstruction leaves less than 50% of the affected room in the building in question adequately lit. For these purposes, ‘adequate’ lighting is ‘one lumen at table height’. This is equivalent to 0.2% of the light available from the whole dome of the sky. So, if this threshold is not breached even with the new obstruction in place then there is no feasible claim. Also, there is no claim if even with the obstruction there remains sufficient light entering the affected room from other windows.
If in any doubt, my recommendation is to appoint a specialist right to light surveyor before proceeding with any planned development (including extending).
Money spent on a specialist report will not be wasted if the adjoining owner seeks to stop construction by injunction proceedings, or potentially worse still, forces the removal or modification of a building already constructed.
A specialist surveyor will often assess the impact of the new building on the transmission of light through the use of CAD software. They may be able to do this without entering the property in question.
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Ian Millington is an experienced Commercial Property Partner, based in Liverpool, who has almost 25 years’ experience. He also visits clients across the North West.
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