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

Issues can arise when a landowner wants to put up a building that may interfere with a neighbour’s right to light. 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.

In a report published on 4 December, the Law Commission has recommended:

  • a statutory notice procedure that would allow landowners to require their 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;
  • a statutory test to clarify when courts may order damages to be paid rather than halting development or ordering demolition;
  • an updated version of the procedure that allows landowners to prevent their neighbours from acquiring rights to light by prescription;
  • clarification of the law governing where an unused right to light is treated as abandoned; and
  • 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.