Rights To Light Law Guide

mariam-abu-hussein
Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 13th February 2024

We all want as much natural light as we can get, in our living rooms, offices and in our bedrooms. The amount of natural light that a window lets in, of course, depends on what is outside that window, and how close other buildings are to that window. 

In the UK, an easement exists that gives private properties certain rights and protections to light.

In this article, we cover the right to light law, including the main principles, who it applies to and how to resolve a right to light dispute should you be faced with one.

What is the right to light law in the UK?

The right to light law in the UK, The Rights of Light Act 1959, is a legal protection that fights to make sure that buildings and homes continue to get access to natural light through ‘defined apertures’, more commonly known as windows or openings. 

If someone's building or home has had natural daylight coming through its windows for more than 20 years without interruption, they have a legal right to keep that light and a neighbouring landowner cannot take away or disrupt that light by building something that blocks it.

If someone did build something that blocks that light, or plans to, the affected owner can object or take legal action to fix the problem.

Right to light principles

The law says that property owners have a legal and protected right to light, through a prescription, if they have enjoyed uninterrupted access to natural light through windows or openings in their building for a significant period - over 20 years.

This is to protect the enjoyment of natural light within buildings and to make sure that developments don’t obstruct or diminish access to light.

Property owners do, therefore, have the right to take legal action if their right to light is affected. They can negotiate with their neighbours, seek injunctions to prevent an obstruction from happening, or claim for damages for loss of light.

However, if someone blocks light from reaching a property for a whole year before 20 years pass, it can cancel out the right to light.

But it's hard to physically block light for that long, and we’re pretty sure it wouldn’t go down so well with the neighbours. So, the Rights to Light Act 1959 has a different way of handling it. Instead of physically blocking the light, a notice is served to the property owner, and a local land charge is registered. 

When looking into a right to light claim, courts will consider various factors, including the impact on neighbouring properties and the reasonable requirements of all parties. They would look at balancing the rights of the property owners with the practical realities of construction and development.

Who has a right to light? 

Unfortunately, we don’t all have an automatic right to light.

Your property has to acquire a right to light by express grant, implied grant, lost modern grant, time immemorial and by Prescription. 

The most common is by Prescription, as set out in the Prescription Act 1832. In Section 3 of this act, the law states that:

When the access and use of light to and for any dwelling house, workshop, or other building shall have been actually enjoyed therewith for the full period of twenty years without interruption, the right thereto shall be deemed absolute and indefeasible.

In plain English: If a property has enjoyed uninterrupted access to light for twenty years, the right to that light becomes absolute and can't be taken away.

It's important to note that the right to light can be specific to individual properties and may vary depending on factors such as local laws, historical usage, and any agreements or arrangements between property owners.

Additionally, tenants or leaseholders may also have certain rights to light, depending on the terms of their lease agreements and applicable laws.

Right to light of property owners

As a property owner, if you have enjoyed natural light through a window or opening for 20 years, you may have the right to light if a neighbouring property owner decides to block that light. 

For example, let’s say you have lived in your home for 30 years, and your neighbour starts developing a two-storey extension that blocks the natural light coming into your windows, and they haven’t discussed this with you in any way, you may be able to make a claim, in which a court would decide between awarding a claim for damages or serving your neighbour an injunction. 

If your neighbour was ordered to pay damages, you would be awarded a sum of money to compensate for the loss of light. If an injunction was served, the court may demand that your neighbour demolish some of all of the new extensions, unless any changes could remedy the problem instead. 

In all cases, any homeowner or developer that is planning to build or extend on neighbouring land and finds that there may be a risk that it affects rights of light, should always tell the affected property owner and start conversations around reaching an agreed settlement or re-design of the development. 

What implications does the right to light law have for development projects?

As a developer, planning and risk assessment should be at the heart of everything you plan to do, and carry out.

You must consider all neighbouring properties' right to light when designing new buildings or structures, which might mean adjusting the height, layout, or positioning of the development to minimise potential obstruction of light.

This of course involves assessing the risk of infringing on the right to light of neighbouring properties during the planning and construction phases of a project. Not doing this could lead to legal disputes, delays, or additional costs.

You might also need to negotiate with neighbouring property owners to address concerns about the potential impact of the development on their right to light. This could involve reaching agreements, such as compensation or changes to the design. 

And it goes without saying, you must make sure you meet the requirements of the Rights of Light Act 1959 and other relevant laws and regulations governing the right to light. This may involve getting legal advice, completing rights of light surveys, and making sure that the development does not unlawfully infringe on neighbouring properties' rights.

How to resolve right to light disputes

To resolve a right to light dispute, there are a few different options that you can try. We suggest starting from the top, and working your way down our list of suggestions, with going to court a true last resort! 

  1. Talk it out: Start by discussing concerns openly. Communication can sometimes solve the problem without needing to pursue legal action.

  2. Find a middle ground: If talking doesn't work, try negotiating. This means trying to find a compromise that works for everyone.

  3. Get expert advice: Consider getting a rights of light survey to understand the situation better. Legal advice can also help clarify what each side can do.

  4. Consider alternative solutions: If negotiation doesn't work, think about other ways to solve the problem, like using a mediator or arbitrator to help reach an agreement.

  5. Court as a last resort: If nothing else works, going to court is an option. But it's usually best to try other methods first because court can be time-consuming and expensive.

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