Right to light…What is it?
It’s a right you may have over land which doesn’t belong to you, entitling you to natural light to your property. You may have such a right over your neighbour’s property. More worryingly, they could have it over yours.
This issue is rarely more apparent than when a developer wants to build on a site which adjoins built up areas of land enjoying rights of light over the newly acquired development site. The developer cannot interfere with its neighbour’s right by building in a way that blocks light, unless it has the consent of the benefiting owner. It’s clear, therefore, that where such a valuable commodity exists, development plans can be brought to an abrupt halt.
It’s an archaic law – surely I can just ignore it?
You could – but it’s a high risk and potentially costly strategy. If a developer ignores the rights and goes ahead with construction, a successful claim against it can result in an injunction which will prevent it continuing to build and/or require it to demolish any part of the construction which constitutes a breach.
Why are we talking about it now?
The Law Commission has proposed changes to the law surrounding rights to light, amongst which are:
1. abolition of the ability to acquire a right to light purely on the basis that it has been enjoyed in the past for a prescribed period;
2. introduction of a new test to clarify when courts can order payment of damages instead of stopping construction or the demolition of an obstructing building; and
3. allowing historic rights to light which no longer have a practical benefit to be extinguished.
Developers are welcoming the proposals because such changes could make dealing with rights to light significantly easier.
On the flipside, however, this could be bad news for homeowners because the value of their houses will potentially be reduced if large developments spring up nearby.
The Law Commission needs to persuade the Government that the negative effect of rights to light disputes is significant enough that it should act on the Commission’s recommendations. With this in mind, it is running a consultation until 16 May to find out:
- the effect of rights to light on securing funding for developments;
- how rights to light delay development projects;
- the cost of engaging in rights to light disputes;
- the cost of using alternative methods to resolve rights to light disputes, for example negotiation/mediation; and
- the value of light in terms of finance and amenity.
This is where you come in. As a residential or commercial property developer, you can provide the above information – anonymously if you prefer – by responding to the consultation:
- through http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/consultations/rights-to-light.htm;
- by completing the ‘Rights to Light- Impact Proforma’ on the British Property Federation’s website; or
- by letter to the Law Commission.
Change will not be immediate – the Law Commission has indicated that if the project proceeds to a final report with draft bill, they anticipate that publication will be in late 2014. It is, however, from a developer’s point of view, a step in the right direction.