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What is a right to light?

What is a right to light?

What is a right to light?

The right to light is a legal principle that means the owner of a property is entitled to receive natural light through openings (such as windows) in their property. Whether a right to light exists will depend on the circumstances.

The issue of right to light typically comes up where the owner of a neighbouring property carries out works, such as building an extension, that blocks some or all of the light that a property owner was receiving through an opening.

If you are a property owner and believe your right to light has been infringed or you a neighbour is claiming you have infringed their right to light, expert advice is essential. In this article, we cover some of the key points surrounding rights of light, but this is not intended as specific legal advice. Please speak to a member of our team if you need your right to light explained with specific advice for your circumstances.

If you would like immediate advice on right to light issues, please contact a member of the Property Disputes team at IBB Law on 03456 381 381 or email enquiries@ibblaw.co.uk to set up a meeting.

Where does right to light apply?

There are strict rules around when the right to light applies, as covered by the Rights of Light Act 1959 (this is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the ‘Right to Light Act’).

The basic principle that governs rights of light is that a property will have acquired the right to light where it has benefited from natural light through a particular opening for a minimum of 20 uninterrupted years.

A right to light can also be acquired in other ways, such as through a common law prescription or where the right has been granted through a deed.

This right to light most commonly applies to windows, but can also apply to other openings, such as patio doors and other doors with glazing. It can also potentially apply to unglazed openings.

A key point to understand is that the right to light only applies to buildings. This includes homes and commercial properties, as well as potentially applying to outbuildings such as garages, workshops, greenhouses, sheds and home offices.

Establishing whether the right to light applies to a particular opening in a building is the first step towards resolving a right to light dispute, so it is sensible to get expert advice at an early stage. Our team will be happy to advise and can also put you in touch with other relevant experts, such as an appropriate surveyor.

When is the right to light infringed?

A property’s right to light would be considered to have been infringed upon where a new obstruction means that the percentage of a room that receives adequate light has been reduced to less than 50% of what it previously was. This principle is known as the ‘50:50’ rule.

This calculation is based on a working plane 850mm above the floor level and will need to be carried out by a specialist surveyor.

Do I have a right to light in my garden?

There are no rights of light in a garden, although it may apply to structures in a garden, such as sheds and greenhouses. If a neighbour is planning to develop their property in a way that you think might impinge on your enjoyment of your garden, it may be possible to object to their being granted planning permission on this basis, but you cannot do so under the right to light.

You can also potentially have legal grounds to object if a neighbour’s fence, boundary wall or hedge is above a certain height. If a fence or boundary wall is above two meters (six feet and six inches), then the neighbour would need planning permission for it. If a neighbour’s hedge is over two meters and is blocking light to your garden, then you can potentially apply to your local council to enforce the hedge being cut back.

What is a Light Obstruction Notice?

As covered above, the right to light can be acquired by a property if it has enjoyed light through a particular opening for an uninterrupted period of at least 20 years. However, if that light is interrupted for a period of 12 months or more before the 20-year mark has been reached, then the clock effectively resets to zero, preventing a right to light from being acquired.

A Light Obstruction Notice is a legal mechanism that exists under the Rights of Light Act 1959. It creates a theoretical obstruction to the light, without the need for the light to be physically blocked. If a Light Obstruction Notice stays in place for 12 months, the clock for acquiring the right to light is reset, exactly as if the light had been physically blocked.

Light Obstruction Notices are typically used where there is the intention to extend a property or there is a site with the potential for development and neighbouring properties are close to reaching the 20-year mark for a right to light to exist.

A Light Obstruction Notice must be served on specific openings in specific properties, rather than being more generally applied to any and all openings that might be affected by a particular development.

Can a Light Obstruction Notice be challenged?

Yes, if a Light Obstruction Notice is served upon an opening where the right to light already exists, then it can be challenged within 12 months of the notice being served. If the challenge is successful, then the notice must be withdrawn and it would not affect the accrual of 20 years’ benefit of natural light to the relevant opening.

How can I protect my right to light?

If you are concerned that your right to light has been infringed or that a proposed development could infringe upon your right to light, then you will need to seek specialist advice.

The first step will be to establish whether the right to light exists. A solicitor with experience in right to light matters can assist you with this. If there has been a planning application by your neighbour, then you will need a surveyor to assess whether the proposed plan will likely impact your right to light. Planning is a complex area, so it is worth having a solicitor to support you through this process.

Where planning permission has been sought and it has been established both that you have a right to light and that the new construction would affect this, you can raise a right to light planning objection. This could either see planning rejected or require your neighbour to modify their plans.

If you believe your right to light has been affected by a new obstruction that has already been built, you can potentially force your neighbour to remove the obstruction or pay you compensation for breaching your right to light.

These are complex matters, so high-level expertise in property dispute resolution is strongly recommended to give you the best chance of a satisfactory outcome at an early stage.

How IBB Law can help with right to light issues

The Property Disputes team at IBB Law can advise on all aspects of right to light disputes. Drawing on our many years of experience, we can make sure you fully understand your legal rights and options, so you can get the resolution you need as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Our expertise has been independently recognised by leading client guides Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500. Our lawyers have strong negotiation skills, alternative dispute resolution and court proceedings, so can give you the best chance of getting an outcome that suits you in the right way for your circumstances and priorities.

To discuss how we can help with right to light issues, please contact a member of the Property Disputes team at IBB Law on or email enquiries@ibblaw.co.uk to set up a meeting.