Christmas lights or right to light?

25 Nov 2016 - And The Law Says
Christmas lights or right to light?

By Christine Oxenburgh

A couple of times this year I have been asked about whether right to light exists and, if it does, what the implications for landowners and users may be. Some people think the law is a mystery. Mystery or not, as Manchester has a policy of revitalising old buildings not just dropping them and starting again, it is very relevant to our property developers.

There are some aspects of this area of law that are pretty obscure, rather esoteric and hide-bound by the oldy-worldy language and concepts we are trying get away from. The law is rather complex so making it simple is tricky but I thought I would take a stab at demystifying it a bit and make it less scary. I really apologise if I have to resort to out of date language.

My father used to call it “the law of ancient lights”. He was a doctor not a lawyer so I would not really expect him to know but he may have been nearer the point than he thought.

A right to light is a right enjoyed by a structure to receive through certain doors and windows (but not all) light that passes over another person’s land sufficient for ordinary use of the relevant space. The land enjoying the right is called the dominant land and land over which the light passes is called the servient land.

It is probably quicker to say what is not protected than what is. Currently not protected are:

  • The view or the view of the sky
  • Direct sunlight
  • The same intensity of light that was available before the infringement
  • All light to the dominant land. Only “useable space” is protected
  • Land that has not been built on
  • Any right not to be overlooked
  • Light that powers solar panels.

A breach of a light to light is dealt with under the civil law of nuisance. Therefore, in theory it is a landowner’s claim and not a tenant’s but as I said, this area of law is not straightforward. A tenant may get a right against the landlord and against third parties.

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