Monday, 18 February 2013

Rights to Light Consultation

The Law Commission's consultation on reforming rights to light law starts today - it's been long awaited.

A "right to light" is an easement that gives landowners the right to receive light through their windows.

The owners of land that's 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 person who benefits from the right to light.

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 get an injunction - 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 - injunction or damages -  and landowners may succeed in preventing development even if they raise their concerns after building has commenced.

The consultation is designed to assist the Law Commission's project investigating 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's a useful summary of the existing law.

It asks for comments on the following main proposals: 

  • that the creation of rights to light by prescription (the enjoyment of light through a window without interruption for a period of 20 years) should be abolished; 

  • a statutory test for when damages might be a more appropriate remedy than an injunction; 

  • the introduction of a new statutory notice period for notifying someone that rights of light are about to be infringed; and

  • a proposal for the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal to have the ability to extinguish rights to light that are obsolete (like it can do now with restrictive covenants).

The consultation closes on 16 May 2013.

It'll take years to change the law though, whatever the outcome. 

19/2/13 UPDATE the proposals have kicked up a storm in the Telegraph today - "Historic laws which guarantee householders the right to enjoy the light which comes into their homes could be scrapped to encourage the building of large developments."

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