With rising house prices, an increasing number of people are looking to extend their homes by adding extensions rather than buying a bigger property.
Building an extension can have an impact on an individual’s “right to light” as a property owner has the right to have and maintain a level of natural light. This includes light which passes over someone else’s property or land. The natural light is usually experienced through windows, skylights and glass roofs for example.
But who has the right to light, how do you prove you have a right to light and what can you do if someone challenges you when you’re building an extension or you feel you’ve lost your right to light?
Your Right To Light
There are a number of ways that you can acquire a right to light. These are:
- Through a legal document
- Through a particular set of circumstances
- Through an act of parliament
- Through common law (cases that have been through the court and have been ruled on)
- Through having a right to light for more than 20 years without that right being given in a legal document
- Through the Prescription Act 1832.
The Prescription Act is a very old piece of legislation. It applies if light has been enjoyed without interruption for a period of at least 20 years, where light has been enjoyed without any written agreement and where the use has been without force, secrecy and permission.
It also says that a right to light can be claimed even when the owner of the land giving the right is not legally in a position to grant them and can be acquired by a tenant for their own benefit against the landlord where their landlord also owns the neighbouring land or against any third party who owns the neighbouring land.
How To Stop A Right To Light
If you are building an extension, there are ways that you can end, suspend or prevent a right to light being granted. These are:
Unity of ownership.
If you own two properties next door to each other, one granting right to light and the other benefiting from right to light, these rights are suspended until there is a change of ownership. Technically there is no need to have this in place whilst you own both properties.
Light obstruction notices
These can be created by a notice registered as a charge against the property.
The Custom of London
There are special rules for properties in the City of London and you should check with a solicitor if you are not sure.
Agreement between the relevant parties
By having a discussion with your neighbours, you could avoid any problems or issues further down the line.
A change in the position of the benefitting windows and openings
If you move the position of a window or door, the 20 year period starts again so this may be worth consideration.
To have a right to light, you have to have enjoyed it in a continuous way for a set period of time. The Prescription Act states that there is a right to light after 20 years, but if this period is interrupted, this right is not given. By putting up a physical impediment such as a screen, hedge, wall or the extension itself, this can be achieved but you must put up the barrier before the set period expires to stop a right to light.
Abandonment. To use abandonment to stop a right to light you will need to show that it has not been used or enjoyed for a significant length of time and that the owner of the land benefiting from the right had a clear and purposeful intention, not to, at any time in the future, assert the right to light or attempt to transfer it to someone else.
The Law Commission recommended that non-use of a right to light for a period of five years would be evidence of an intention to abandon the right. Any claim for abandonment will only be successful if the person benefiting from the right does something that clearly indicates a firm intention that neither the current nor any future owner will make use of the right to light. This could be the permanent blocking off of windows for example.
Just showing that the right to light has not been used for a very long time does not confirm that it has been abandoned.
Courts are often reluctant to find that a right to light has been abandoned because property owners do not normally want to strip themselves of property rights unless there is an advantage in doing so, even if there is no immediate need to the right to light.
But, if your neighbour builds a wall that blocks light to a window and you do nothing, it is clear that your right to light has been stopped or interrupted. Your lack of action shows an intention to not exercise that right again.
Right to light is a complicated legal issue and if you are having problems with a neighbour, it is best to get some advice from a specialist dispute resolution solicitor.
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