What is a right to light?
A right to light is a type of easement; this essentially means that it is a right enjoyed over land belonging to someone else.
A right of light is an easement to enjoy the natural light that passes over someone else’s land (the servient land) and enters through windows, skylights and glass roofs on another piece of land (the dominant land). When a right to light is established, the benefitting landowner is entitled to receive sufficient natural light through windows etc. to allow the room or space behind the window to be used for its ordinary purpose. This means that rooms used for different purposes will be entitled to different levels of light, for example a bedroom will receive a higher level of light than a garage would receive.
How can a right to light benefit someone’s property?
A right to light cannot be interfered with by a neighbouring landowner by, for example, erecting a building in a way that blocks the light, without the consent of the landowner. If this occurs, the landowner may be able to prevent development. If the development has already taken place the court may order the demolition or damages to the affected landowner.
How can a right to light be established?
A right to light can be established by express grant, implication or by prescription.
Express grant: this commonly occurs when someone sells part of the land they own, they either expressly grant the buyer a right to light or expressly reserve one for the benefit of the retained land. It is also possible for a right to light to be granted by one landowner to another through a deed of easement when there is no other transaction. The key to this is that the right to light is documented in a formal deed and is registered at the Land Registry.
Implied grant: this may occur where a transaction has taken place but no express agreement was made regarding the right to light, the court may find that it was implied that the windows in the property in the transaction had rights to light.
Prescription: a right to light can arise by prescription. This is where the landowner makes use of a neighbour’s land for a long period of time and as a result obtains certain rights. There are three ways a right to light can be established through prescription:
If the land has been continuously used since 1189 then a right to light is established at common law. For obvious reasons this is rarely used.
If the land has been used continuously for 20 years on an open basis, without force and without permission then the courts may find that a right to light has been established as though a deed was entered into but has been lost.
Under the Prescription Act 1832, a right to light can arise if the right has been enjoyed for the period of 20 years before a claim is made. Only an interruption of a year or more or the written consent of the affected land owner will prevent the right being acquired.
We work with specialist surveyors who can investigate and report as to whether rights to light exist.
How can a right to light be protected?
There is no requirement to register prescriptive easements; therefore rights to light are rarely registered at the Land Registry as they usually arise by prescription.
If however your property has enjoyed passage of light over neighbour property for at least 20 years then an application can be made to the land Registry supported by a statutory declaration or a statement of truth to register a right to light over the property. This could help prevent a neighbouring landowner from developing on their land to your detriment.
To speak with a property specialist regarding a right to light matter or dispute, call 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry through our online form.