A "right to light" is an easement that gives landowners the right to receive light through defined apertures in buildings on their land. The owners of land that is burdened by the right cannot substantially interfere with it – for example by erecting a building in a way that blocks the light – without the consent of the benefiting owner.
Rights to light are valuable: they give landowners certainty that natural light will continue to be enjoyed by a property – increasing its utility, value and amenity. The right may enable landowners to prevent construction that would interfere with their rights or, in some circumstances, to have a building demolished. Where a development has taken place, but a court does not order its demolition, the court may award substantial damages. It may not be clear which remedy the court will order and landowners may succeed in preventing development even if they raise their concerns after building has commenced.
This project investigates whether the law by which rights to light are acquired and enforced provides an appropriate balance between the important interests of landowners and the need to facilitate the appropriate development of land. It considers the interrelationship of rights to light with the planning system, and examines whether the remedies available to the courts where rights to light are infringed are reasonable, sufficient and proportionate.
The consultation paper considers the law relating to the entire life-cycle of a right to light, from creation to extinguishment. It considers private law easements of light only, and we make no proposals in respect of planning law.
The Law Commission has not proposed abolishing rights to light; nor would we consider doing so.
In the consultation paper we make several provisional proposals and request consultees’ views on a number of other areas. One area in which we make a provisional proposal is the law of prescription, or acquisition of rights to light by long use, which can in some circumstances create rights to light where a person has received light over a neighbour’s land for 20 years. In the consultation paper we present the arguments both for and against abolishing prescription for rights to light. We reach the conclusion in the paper that, in this specific context, in which rights to light frequently arise without anyone knowing about it and result in disputes between neighbours, the arguments are stronger for the abolition of this method of acquisition for the future than they are for retention. But our proposals in the consultation paper are provisional, and we will listen carefully to consultees’ views when formulating our final recommendations to Government.
We also make the following provisional proposals:
- We propose the introduction of a new statutory test to clarify the current law on when courts may order a person to pay damages instead of ordering that person to demolish or stop constructing a building that interferes with a right to light.
- We propose the introduction of a new statutory notice procedure, which requires those with the benefit of rights to light to make clear whether they intend to apply to the court for an injunction (ordering a neighbouring landowner not to build in a way that infringes their right to light), with the aim of introducing greater certainty into rights to light disputes.
- We propose that the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal should be able to extinguish rights to light that are obsolete or have no practical benefit, with payment of compensation in appropriate cases, as it can do under the present law in respect of restrictive covenants.
We also invite consultees’ views on a number of other issues.
How to respond
Please send your comments:
- by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or
- by post to Nicholas Macklam, Law Commission, Steel House, 11 Tothill Street, London SW1H 9LJ.
This consultation relates to our rights to light project.
Reference number: LCCP210