The right to light is a legal right in England and Wales that entitles householders and businesses to some natural illumination. If activities undertaken by another party would block light, the wronged party can take the matter to court and request a legal remedy to the situation. This right does not exist in all places, and attempts to establish and enforce a right to light in some countries have failed.
The origins of this concept in England lie in common law, with enforcement through legislation such as the Prescription Act of 1832. Under this convention, a structure that has been in place for at least 20 years is entitled to a right to light. If the windows would be obstructed by another structure, the property owner can enforce the right to light and demand that the other structure be modified in some way to accommodate the windows of the established building.
In property development in England, this is an important consideration. Neighbors of the sites of proposed developments can ask to review the plans and can file protests if they have concerns about their levels of natural illumination. Developers might need to adjust plans by moving buildings or changing their shape to avoid blocking windows. It also is possible to file a protest as construction gets under way if it becomes evident that the finished structure will block windows.
Restrictions on Existing Structures
It is not legal to modify the shape or size of windows in an attempt to claim an expanded right to light. A property owner who is protesting a development cannot, for example, run out and put picture windows in every room. The right to light is based on the established configuration of windows, including their size, shape and position. This right is sometimes known as “ancient light,” and structures that have windows that qualify for protections sometimes bear “ancient light” signs as warnings to would-be developers.
Disputes over the right to light can often be resolved while a new structure is still being planned. Sometimes it is possible to move a home's position on a lot, for example, to provide an adequate view for the neighbors. Neighbors also might be mollified by attempts to reach a reasonable resolution. Conflicts, however, can result in the creation of spite houses — structures built specifically to irritate the neighbors, sometimes in reaction to attempts to obstruct, delay or otherwise interfere with development plans. Such structures might scrupulously obey the letter of the law but are designed to annoy the neighbors as much as possible.