Guidance from the Royal Association of Chartered Surveyors on homeowners right to light

Latest guidance from surveyors association on homeowners right to light

Homeowners left in the shadows by neighbouring sheds, fences and home extensions could claim for compensation or have the buildings removed, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which has published a new consumer guide on the issue.

With a mini boom in new home extensions, shoffices and garden rooms following the pandemic, the potential problems with these structures blocking light to neighbouring properties has become even more apparent.

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Savills found that nearly 250,000 extensions were given permission in the year up to September 2021 alone but those living next door or nearby can sometimes be impacted with a loss of daylight. The RICS say that while no such right to daylight exists in Scotland, homeowners in England and Wales are entitled to raise concerns if over half of any established room is lit by natural daylight and this is effectively taken away by building work.

Right to light is an important issue

Such a right, sometimes referred to as “ancient lights”,is held by “anyone who has had uninterrupted use of something over someone else’s land for 20 years without consent, openly and without threat, and without interruption for more than a year.” according to common law.

However, challenging a developer or approaching a neighbour about a dispute can be difficult and fraught, especially if building work is underway or already completed. The new RICS guide sets out what anyone affected should do. Here is the guidance:

*Hire a professional right to light specialist who can measure the size of your room together with the scale of the proposed scheme to assess the potential impact on the natural light level and prepare formal evidence for use in a dispute case.

*Raise the matters first before construction starts. If a neighbour approaches in advance of work starting, then homeowners should try to let them know of any “rights to light” they may have. That way natural light needs can be taken into consideration before the need for court action and solicitors.

*Even if building work is finished, neighbouring householders can still raise a right to light claim for compensation or alterations, but only so long as evidence is submitted.

*If the issue gets as far as the courts, judges can award either financial compensation or order alterations to restore natural light. Resolving a right to light complaint doesn’t always have to go through the courts, which can take a lot of time and lead to excessive costs. For example, RICS has set up a Neighbour Disputes Service that acts as an neutral arbitrator and this is quicker and cheaper than using the formal routes available by the government.

Andrew Thompson CEnv FRICS, of the RICS Rights of Light working group said: “The importance of natural light in properties for energy efficiency, carbon footprint plus health and wellbeing is resulting in more property owners taking a protective stance.

"Whilst the planning system via permitted development has created an opportunity for many properties to increase in size this has not removed the safeguard held by neighbouring owners to protect their own homes should imposed removal of natural light happen. Ancient lights are still a current day safeguard against unwanted obstruction to natural light.”