A ‘right to light’ is a phrase often used in the world of property and land ownership. However, many business owners, homeowners and landowners can still find themselves unsure as to what ‘rights to light’ means and how this may or may not impact them.

In England and Wales, a right to light is usually acquired under the  , and there are lots of legal and technical principles involved. And so, with that in mind, we’ve put together a useful guide to help with rights to light.

Right to light, or rights of light?

Many people question whether the correct terminology is rights to light, or rights of light, as both are commonly used.

In this instance, there is no right or wrong, or legal significance between the two terms. In fact, they mean the same thing, and which one is used often comes down to personal preference.

So, if you hear one or both phrases, then rest assured that they are referring to the same law.

What is right to light?

Rights to light is a civil matter, and as an easement, gives the long-term owner of a building or property the right to maintain and enjoy an adequate level of light and illumination passing over somebody else’s land, and through the likes of windows in their building.

Rights to light  and the law surrounding the subject are much older than planning law and procedures. Most of the legal principles and rules relating to rights to light are derived from the common law (for example, cases decided by judges) rather than statute law, as well as the

Planning law can often be confused with rights to light. However, they are entirely unrelated and planning consent for a project does not mean that any issues related to rights to light have been addressed and/or dealt with.

Case law has established that a right to light attaches to a clearly defined aperture, such as, but not limited to, a window. The likes of rooflights and doors can also acquire right to light if its primary purpose includes the admittance of light.

What, or who, cannot acquire rights to light?

Generally, if a property has had uninterrupted enjoyment of light for more than 20 years, they acquire rights to light. Should a property be less than 20 years old or have interrupted light, they do not acquire the right to light.

Despite what many believe, well-established English law does not recognise a right to sunlight, a right to a view or vista, or, perhaps most importantly, a right to privacy. And, as the law currently stands, these cannot be acquired as easements.

Who can acquire a rights to light?

A person whose architecture acquires a right to light is referred to as the ‘dominant’ owner, and their property is known as the ‘dominant tenement’.

Meanwhile, a person who finds themselves subjected to right to light enjoyed by an adjoining property, is called a ‘servient’ owner and their property is referred to as the ‘servient tenement’.

How does the rights to light process work?

Rights to light can be acquired by architecture to a building by a number of methods, including:

  • Express grant or reservation
  • Implied grant or reservation
  • Prescription – by Time immemorial
  • Prescription – by the Doctrine or Lost Modern Grant
  • Prescription – by the Prescription Act 1832

When considering rights to light, in order for an aggrieved property owner or occupier to successfully oppose a neighbour’s proposed development, it is necessary for such owner or occupier to demonstrate three key things. This consists of:

  • A right to light has been acquired
  • The development proposed will interfere, or is interfering, unreasonably with enjoyment of the right to light (for example, a nuisance is, or will be, being caused)
  • The only adequate remedy to address the nuisance is an injunction rather than damages

Simply, a nuisance may be defined as the unreasonable interference with the enjoyment of land and buildings, the rights attached to land and buildings, or physical damage to such by unintended invasion.

How to resolve a rights to light?

Prescription is the most common way in which a property acquires rights to light, although generally speaking, any property that has had uninterrupted enjoyment of light for more than 20 years, acquires rights to light. However, this can be defeated if the light is obstructed for one year continuously, before the expiry of 20 years.

The creation of a physical obstruction to prevent a neighbouring property is the reason the Rights of Light Act 1959 allows a notice to be served on the property owner, registering a local land charge which will show up on a local search.

Rights to light often pose a problem with people operating under the misunderstanding that if they have planning permission, then this problem has been resolved, which isn’t the case. And this is why we recommend the support and guidance of a rights to light surveyor.

Rights to light surveyor

Whilst we hope that this guide has informed you further on the details of rights to light, we understand that it remains somewhat of a complex matter.

A rights to light surveyor can assist and guide you on any issues you may have regarding adequate lighting, and rights to light.

So, don’t go it alone – enlist the help of an expert, such as a rights to light surveyor.

At Arc, we can assess and analyse all contributing factors, ensuring you receive accurate and helpful advice whilst minimising any and all potential risks.

Our practical knowledge of construction and level of understanding of property law means we can lead our clients through these issues, while minimising risk of dispute.

If you’d the help and support of a rights to light surveyor, then get in touch today!