It will probably not come as too big a surprise to hear that one of the impacts of the numerous lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic was an increase in the number of homeowners looking to extend their properties. Either by extending or by adding new buildings in their gardens, sources have suggested that over 250,000 homeowners applied for and were granted permission to extend in the twelve months to September 2021.
The relaxation of Permitted Development rules has also, as one might expect, encouraged homeowners to get building. However, for every silver lining there’s a cloud. Whereas one homeowner benefits from a dream extension, there is a neighbour who potentially feels that their home is being adversely affected.
What is the current guidance concerning Rights to Light?
In April 2022, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) issued a new Consumer Guide on Rights to Light. One would be right in thinking that disputes and the resulting litigation dealing with rights to light have, predominately, arisen in the context of large-scale developments. However, the RICS’s new guide has emphasised that even a new wall, garden office or shed might interfere with a neighbour’s right to light.
How can a right to light be claimed?
A right to light can be established where, immediately before a right is claimed, there has been at least 20 years unobstructed light to a window. So, houses built as recently as before 2002 could potentially benefit from these rights. Should a neighbour’s new extension reduce, below acceptable levels, the flow and the level of light available in a room, then a homeowner may have an actionable claim.
What if my right to light has been compromised?
Rights to light are an extremely powerful tool in neighbourly disputes. Remedies available to the Court include compensation for the loss of light, requiring the neighbour to change their development plans; injunctive relief and the Court could order the partial or total removal of the offending structure(s). Homeowners therefore need to remember that obtaining planning permission, does not preclude a neighbour’s claim to protect a right to light, even after the development is complete.
What if I’m thinking of extending my home or dreaming of that garden office?
Be mindful of the potential infringement of a neighbour’s right to light, seek professional advice and, if necessary, obtain consent to the works. If this is not possible, or where development has already taken place, indemnity insurance is potentially available to protect against the cost of any claims brought by neighbours, including any compensation payments.
Conversely, where a neighbour’s extension has blighted your home there is action that can be taken.
All litigation has its own risks and cost implications so proper legal advice is essential. It is important to remember that there are other possible means of resolving disputes that don’t involve the Courts.
If you feel that your right to light has been affected by a neighbour’s development or have concerns that your own development could result in a neighbourly dispute, then please contact our Commercial Property team who will be able to advise you on the best course of action.