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18 February 2013
In a consultation opening today the Law Commission is asking for views on the current law on rights to light, including their creation, enforcement and extinguishment.
The aim of the Law Commission’s project is to examine the balance in the current law between the rights of landowners and the public interest in accommodating appropriate development, and the efficient use of land.
Rights to light are private property rights that benefit buildings, both residential and commercial. Not all buildings have them. Rights to light are sometimes created deliberately, but more often arise informally, over time (by “prescription”). This can happen if light comes through a window over a neighbour’s land for 20 years.
Disputes can arise when a neighbour wants to put up a building that would interfere with a right to light. Under the current law there is uncertainty as to when a court will order that building works be prevented, or a building pulled down, or award a payment of damages instead. This means that disputes can drag on for years, even until after a development has been built, and can result in a great deal of uncertainty for both the landowner, the developer and their advisors. This increases costs and causes unnecessary delays.
The Commission is seeking views on the state of the current law, and on its provisional proposals. These include:
• bringing greater transparency and certainty to disputes by introducing a statutory notice procedure. This would require landowners to tell potential developers within a specified time if they intend to seek an injunction to protect their right to light
• simplifying and clarifying the law by introducing a statutory test to determine when courts may order damages to be paid rather than halting development or ordering demolition, and
• helping to guard against future disputes by ensuring that, for the future, rights to light can no longer be acquired by prescription.
Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the Law Commissioner leading the project, says:
“Rights to light are important. These rights do not just add to a property’s value; they also enhance the amenity of our homes and businesses. But there is also a public interest in the development of the modern, high quality residential, office and commercial development that we need in our town and city centres. This project examines a difficult area where a balance is needed between the rights of different landowners.
“The Commission’s aim is to bring more clarity, certainty and transparency into the law relating to rights to light, to reduce the scope for disputes and, where they do happen, make it simpler, easier and quicker for landowners, developers and the courts to resolve them.”
The consultation is open until 16 May 2013.