A right to light is a right for a landowner to receive light through windows in buildings on their land. Rights to light are frequently a source of frustration for developers who may be prevented from developing land if a development would interfere with a neighbouring landowner’s right to light.
A landowner who is successful in asserting a right to light might be able obtain an injunction – an order preventing a new building, or ordering the demolition of an existing building that infringes the right to light. The courts have a discretion to award financial compensation instead of an injunction but the law governing which remedy a court will award is uncertain. An injunction is currently the primary remedy for a claimant.
The Law Commission’s recommended reforms would allow developers to serve a notice forcing neighbouring owners either to apply for an injunction or to limit any remedy they have to financial compensation alone. If no claim for a right to light is brought within eight months of the developer serving the notice, landowners will lose their right to claim an injunction preventing a new building, or ordering the demolition of an existing building. A court would still be able to award damages after this date.
A new test has also been proposed that would allow courts to determine whether an injunction or financial compensation is the most suitable remedy in any case. The test would take into account a non-exhaustive list of factors, including:
- What impact an injunction would have on a developer
- Whether granting an injunction is in the public interest
- Whether financial compensation would be adequate compensation for the landowner
The underlying aim is to ensure that a court does not grant an injunction if this would be a disproportionate means of enforcing the neighbouring owner’s right.
The proposals, if implemented, are likely to improve the position for developers. The Law Commission is currently awaiting a response from government on its report.