Updated: Nov 12, 2022
What are ‘Right to Light’ easements, and how can they affect me?
'Right to Light' easements give property owners the right to receive daylight through windows and doors within their property if those apertures have received daylight for 20 years or more.
These rights, therefore, arise automatically over time, as opposed to through an agreement between you and your neighbours. As a result of this, you may be burdened with an easement that prevents you from building certain types of extensions that may block this light.
What happens if my development breaches my neighbour’s ‘Right to Light’?
If your development breaches a ‘Right to Light’ easement, your neighbour can take legal action against you and seek a financial settlement or injunction to have the building work stopped or the responsible structure removed. As you can imagine, this can be a costly mistake, so it is wise to assess the implications of ‘Rights to Light’ easements as early as possible within the design process.
If in breach, you may not become aware of an issue until you receive a letter from a lawyer, often years after the project has been completed.
Is there a way to avoid ‘Right to Light’ litigation?
In some cases, your neighbour may be happy to provide written consent to the works, perhaps if they are looking to undertake similar works themselves. In others, we can commission a maximum envelope study for you to assess the maximum volume that can be built whilst maintaining compliance. The simplest way, however, is you design your project in a manner that does not pose a risk of breaching neighbouring rights.
Why should I care about ‘Rights to Light’ my project has planning approval
It is worth noting that just because you have gained planning permission or the project is considered to be Permitted Development, this does not protect you from legal action if the project has infringed on a ‘Right to Light’ easement. In many cases, planners will overlook a breach and approve a project, only for an injunction to stop the build on-site or result in damages or demolition following completion. In short, approval doesn't override your neighbour's ‘Right to Light’. Likewise, if your neighbour gained planning permission but has breached your ‘Right to Light’, you may be entitled to compensation yourself.
Are ‘Rights to Light’ the same as the Council's 45-degree rule?
Yes and no. The Council’s 45-degree rule is certainly influenced by ‘Rights to Light’ easements. However, they may still be able to restrict development with this rule, even if a maximum envelope study has proven that there will be no ‘Rights to Light’ issues. Similarly, it is possible to gain planning permission taking into account the 45-degree rule, whilst being in breach of a ‘Right to Light’ easement. As such, these should be considered independently.
As you can imagine, rights to light are valuable. They provide owners with certainty that natural light will continue to be enjoyed by a property, maintaining its utility, value and amenity. These rights provide owners with the legal tools to prevent construction that would interfere with their rights and to seek compensation when an existing amenity is damaged. In cases where a court doesn't order the demolition of a development, substantial damages can be awarded.