Right to Light
The presumption when it comes to land ownership is that the landowner owns from the depth to the heavens. This therefore may create a situation whereby a neighbouring property can build right up to yours and therefore prevent any light getting onto your land.
The law however does recognise a right to receive light which is passed over neighbouring land. You can acquire a right if your property is benefited from such light for a period of 20 years under the Prescription Act 1832, by lost modern grant or by reliance upon the ancient legal principal of the light having existed since time immemorial.
In order to acquire a right of light by prescription there needs to be an aperture i.e. a skylight or a window that can receive the light and the person claiming the right to light must actually show they have made some use of the light coming through the aperture.
If you acquire a right to light by prescription, you acquire the light that is reasonably necessary for the ordinary use that the building is put to. Therefore each case needs to be looked at on its own individual merits.
Historically people have referred to the Waldran method to establish whether there is an interference with a right to light. This however is only a rule of thumb and should be adopted as a useful guide.
The Law Commission has now issued a consultation on the future of the right to light. The proposal seeks to alter the law in this area fairly significantly. It is proposed that you will no longer be able to acquire rights to light by prescription and you can go to the Lands Tribunal and seek to discharge a right to light if there is an issue.
Right to lights are often used as a ransom to extract monies from developers or neighbouring land owners and the Law Commission’s proposal is clearly trying to strike a balance between allowing developments to go ahead whilst at the same time protecting people’s legal rights. It remains to be seen what will be the outcome of the consultation process.