Right to light
Right to light is a form of easement in English law that gives a long-standing owner of a building with windows a right to maintain the level of illumination. It is based on the Ancient Lights law. The rights are most usually acquired under the Prescription Act 1832.
In effect, the owner of a building with windows that have received natural daylight for 20 years or more is entitled to forbid any construction or other obstruction that would deprive him or her of that illumination. Neighbours cannot build anything that would block the light without permission. The owner may build more or larger windows but cannot enlarge their new windows before the new period of 20 years has expired. It is also possible for a right to light to exist if granted expressly by deed, or granted implicitly, for example under the rule in Wheeldon v. Burrows (1879).
Once a right to light exists, the owner of the right is entitled to "sufficient light according to the ordinary notions of mankind": Colls v. Home & Colonial Stores Ltd (1904). Courts rely on expert witnesses to define this term. Since the 1920s, experts have used a method proposed by Percy Waldram to assist them with this. Waldram suggested that ordinary people require one foot-candle of illuminance (approximately ten lux) for reading and other work involving visual discrimination. This equates to a sky factor (similar to the daylight factor) of 0.2%. Today, Waldram's methods are increasingly subject to criticism and the future of expert evidence in rights to light cases is currently the subject of much debate within the surveying profession.
In the centre of London near Chinatown and Covent Garden, particularly in back alleyways, signs saying "Ancient Lights" can be seen marking individual windows. The design and construction of Broadcasting House was also affected by locals declaring their right to ancient lights. It resulted in a unique asymmetrical sloped design that allowed for sunlight to pass over the building to the residential quarters eastwards, long since demolished and now home to the new Egton Wing.
Recent case law from 2010, relating to a commercial development in the centre of Leeds (HKRUK II v Heaney) has significantly changed the perceptions of risk associated with right-to-light, particularly in the context of commercial schemes. This case upheld an injunction against a commercial property. The result of this is that many developers are now looking to work with local authorities to try to use section 237 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This potentially stops injunctions against schemes that have over-riding social or economic advantages to an area.
Under United States tort law, in Fontainebleau Hotel Corp. v. Forty-Five Twenty-Five, Inc. (1959) the Florida Appellate Court stated that the "ancient lights" doctrine has been unanimously repudiated in the United States.
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- Rights of Light, Stephen Bickford-Smith and Andrew Francis, ISBN 978-1-84661-024-0
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- The Expert Witness and the Right to Light, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE)