Royal Association of Chartered Surveyors guidance on homeowners’ right to light

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

With a post-pandemic mini-boom in new home extensions, shed offices and garden rooms, the potential problems with these structures blocking light to neighboring properties have become even more apparent.

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Savills noted nearly 250,000 extensions were approved in the year to September 2021 alone, but the neighbors or neighbors can sometimes be affected by a loss of daylight. RICS say that while there is no such right to daylight in Scotland, homeowners in England and Wales are entitled to raise a concern when more than half of an existing space is lit by natural daylight and this is effectively taken away by building work.

The right to light is an important issue

Such a right, sometimes referred to as “ancient lights,” is accorded to “anyone who, without consent, openly and without threat, and without interruption, has used anything over another’s land for more than one year continuously for 20 years.” according to common law.

However, it can be difficult and tense to challenge a developer or approach a neighbor about a dispute, especially when construction is ongoing or completed. The new RICS guidance sets out what victims should do. Here is the guide:

* Engage a professional lighting specialist who can measure the size of your space along with the scale of the proposed system to assess the potential impact on natural light levels and prepare formal evidence of use in a dispute.

* Clear things up first before you start building. If a neighbor shows up before work begins, homeowners should try to notify them of any “rights to light.” In this way, the need for natural light can be considered before the need for court cases and lawyers.

*Even after construction is complete, neighboring homeowners can still claim damages or remodeling, but only as long as evidence is presented.

*If the matter goes to court, judges can either award monetary compensation or order changes to restore natural light. Resolving a Right to Light complaint does not always have to go to court, which can take a long time and result in excessive costs. For example, RICS has set up a Neighbor Disputes Service to act as a neutral arbitrator, and this is quicker and cheaper than using the government’s formal channels.

Andrew Thompson CEnv FRICS, from the RICS Working Group on the Rights to Light, said: “The importance of natural light in properties for energy efficiency, carbon footprint and health and well-being is leading more and more property owners to take a protective stance.

“While the planning system over the permitted development has given many properties the opportunity to increase in size, this has not overturned the safety precautions of neighboring owners to protect their own homes should there be an imposed removal of natural light. Antique lights are still a current safety precaution against unwanted obstruction of natural light.”

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