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Law Commission takes balanced approach on right to light

New report aims to make law more transparent for home owners and developers

4 December 2014

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The Law Commission is recommending reforms to the law governing rights to light that will strike a balance between the interests of landowners and the law's recognition of the need for appropriate development.

Under the current law there is no time limit for a neighbour to claim that their right to light would be infringed. Disputes can drag on for years, even until after a development has been built. In these circumstances, the courts can order a developer to halt construction, demolish the building or pay the landowner damages.

Commenting on the recommendations, Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the Law Commissioner leading the project, said: "Rights to light are important, particularly for homeowners. The law must continue to protect them. But it is essential that the law provides an appropriate balance between the protection of light and the development of the modern, high-quality residential, office and commercial premises we need in our town and city centres."

The Commission is recommending a statutory notice procedure allowing landowners to require neighbours to tell them, within a specified time, if they intend to seek an injunction to protect their right to light, or to lose the potential for that remedy to be granted.

Furthermore, there should be a statutory test to clarify when courts may order damages to be paid rather than halting development or ordering demolition.

It is also suggested that an updated version of the procedure allowing landowners to prevent neighbours from acquiring rights to light by prescription and a clarification of the law governing where an unused right to light is treated as abandoned.

Finally, the Commission advised there should be a power for the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal to discharge or modify obsolete or unused rights to light.

Following concerns expressed by consultees, the Law Commission is not recommending the abolition of the informal acquisition of rights to light by prescription. The Commission's 2011 recommendations for reform of the general law of prescription would simplify and clarify this area, making disputes less protracted and expensive for all parties.

Cooke continued: "Our reforms will clarify the legal relationships between the parties, bring transparency and certainty, and reduce the scope for disputes. Where disputes do happen, it will be easier and quicker for landowners, developers and the courts to resolve them.

"This work builds on and, in some respects, depends on, the recommendations we made in 2011 for reforming the general law of easements. We look forward to a response from government to both these important reports."

The Commission's report, Rights to Light, is available to view in full here.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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