With the ever-increasing number of high-rise buildings in our cities, particularly London, the question of rights to light is an issue which is likely to need consideration by residential conveyancing lawyers when advising property buyers and sellers.
The Romans first established the idea that everyone was entitled to a certain amount of light in their homes and that this should not be interfered with by a neighbour. If there was an infringement, the parties were obliged to negotiate a settlement, usually financial.
The obligation was enshrined in English case law as it became established and usually damages were awarded to the aggrieved party by the courts, although building was not often stopped as a consequence.
The basic rule is that if a resident of a house, flat or bungalow or other home has enjoyed light over a neighbouring property for 20 years or more then that light cannot be obstructed by a new building.
Nowadays, this is a fairly rare event because local authority planning officers and councillors are fully aware of the need to preserve existing amenities before planning permission is granted for housing or commercial developments, including extensions.
However, in 2006, a Brighton maisonette owner went to the Court of Appeal over a neighbouring building which prevented him from using his living room without having the lights on because it was over-shadowed.
He had been concerned about the building work as soon as it started but the developers were not willing to stop work or otherwise address his problems but eventually the courts came down on the side of the householder and said the new building had to be changed because of the neighbour’s right to light.
To avoid these complications, a property owner, who might want to build close to a neighbour, can apply to the local authority for a light obstruction notice which, if there are no objections within a year, will then lead to the 20-year rule on rights to light being disregarded.
Once a light obstruction notice has been made and neighbours notified of its existence, it is up to any of them to challenge the notice before the deadline.
When a residential conveyancing solicitor carries out local authority searches prior to exchange of contracts, potential neighbouring developments and the existence of any light obstruction notices should be identified and the buyer advised accordingly of the negative effects on their new home.
If the new buyer is prepared to tolerate a loss of light, their solicitor may be able to negotiate a reduction in the sale price because of the decrease in value of the property which might arise from a neighbouring building project.
Residential conveyancing advice from Healys solicitors of London and Brighton
Rights to light is an unusual problem for home-buyers but an experienced residential conveyancing solicitor will be able to advise and, if necessary, conduct negotiations so that the client’s best interests are achieved.
With their wide range of experience helping people buy and sell freehold and leasehold flats and houses, particularly in London and Brighton, the helpful legal team of Healys is well placed to offer advice and representation through the complex aspects of property law.
For more information and advice on costs of Healys’ residential conveyancing services, you can request a call-back via the website, email partner Kiri Kkoshi telephone 020 7822 4148 or, in Brighton, Darina Gowen telephone 01273 669115.