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Rights to Light – Whose Right Is It?

The High Court has recently heard the case of Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd v RMC FH Co Ltd which relates to Rights to Light.

What is a Right to Light?

A right to light is an easement to enjoy the natural light that passes over someone else’s land, and then enters through defined apertures in a building. Apertures include windows (with or without glass), skylights and glass roofs. Consequently, it is not sufficient to show that there has been a net reduction in the amount of light available, the loss of light must amount to a nuisance.

What a Right to Light is Not

A right of light has specific restrictions that limit its scope, there is not right to light in the following situations:

  • In respect of land that has not been built upon.
  • The right is for sufficient natural illumination, not to direct sun rays (which therefore has an impact on solar panels more recently).
  • Rights of light do not protect uninterrupted views of the sky from the property, nor to a particular view from the property
  • They do not protect a view to a property
  • They do not protect a property from being overlooked nor do they safeguard privacy
  • A right is not an entitlement to receive the same amount of light to that received before the obstruction arose.

Why is this Case Important?

In the case of Metropolitan Housing Trust Ltd v RMC FH Co Ltd the Court considered whether a tenant could release its rights to light to a neighbouring developer without the landlord’s consent. The case considered how the different rights and interests of parties who may enjoy the benefit of a right to light should be dealt with.
The facts of the case were that the head tenant and the freeholder of the block both considered that they enjoyed a prescriptive right of light under section 3 of the Prescription Act 1832 (PA 1832) over the developer’s site and that the development would lead to an actionable interference with that right.
The freeholder argued that the head tenant could not release the right as it would be a breach of the headlease. The relevant clause in the headlease stated that the head tenant could not give consent for any new window or other encroachment nor permit any easement to be acquired upon or against the demised premises which might be or grow to the damage, annoyance or inconvenience of the freeholder.
The erection of the building on the development site, if it resulted in an actionable interference with the right of light, would be an encroachment on the right of light.
The court decided that the right to light that had been acquired during the term of the lease was to be treated as part of the demised premises. Therefore this prevented the head tenant from releasing the rights in circumstances where the freeholder had not already done so and thus the intended release would be an encroachment upon them.
However, the court refused to give a declaration that the head tenant could release the right of light appurtenant to the headlease without the freeholder’s consent because there was insufficient evidence to decide that the new building would result in such an actionable interference.
The case shows that a tenant can claim the benefit of an easement which has been acquired as appurtenant to the freehold, even after a lease is granted. This case is potentially of particular interest to developers, landlords and tenants where the dominant land is subject to a lease, as it highlights that careful consideration should be given to who should be a party to a release of a right of light. It also shows how parties may wish to consider drafting lease provisions to provide greater clarity and certainty. However, it should be noted that the case was decided on its own facts and based on the particular wording on the lease in question.

If you require help with a housing issue, speak to our Specialist Team on 0800 088 6004.