Published in The Sunday Times on 08 January 2023
My neighbour is building an extension and it blocks my light
My neighbour wants to build an extension. They’ve showed us the plans but we felt put on the spot as we were not expecting a substantial build. From the drawings, the light into our kitchen and the bedroom above will be impacted, and our garden will mostly be in the shade. We have always had a good relationship and we do not want to make things uncomfortable, but we feel that this will impact our lives. What are our options? Sarah, Dover
If your neighbour is planning any type of building work requiring planning permission, they need to demonstrate they have considered the potential impact on the light received by their neighbour’s property. My advice is to go back to your neighbour. They have already spoken to you so that’s a positive start. Now it’s your turn to take your concerns to them. The situation may be able to be resolved amicably, if it is prior to the submission of a planning application, then the neighbour may be able to put your mind at rest and consider your concerns beforehand. If not, there are two routes available to support your stance. “Right to light” is a legal matter between landowners that allows them to receive light from the sky through windows or other openings with uninterrupted enjoyment. This would be the situation for you if your property has had, say, a permanent window or door receiving light for 20 years or more. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t lived there yourself for 20 years — it applies if the property has had the same apertures for that time, and the lease or deed has been correctly transferred. If rights to light are indeed “enjoyed” by your property and “infringed” to an unreasonable degree then they will be protected by law. This would require an assessment. As your neighbour is undertaking serious works, he or she should have been advised to complete one at the earliest opportunity, ideally prior to planning.
The second measurement is Daylight and Sunlight, which looks at the natural light received by dwellings and properties that are determined to need adequate levels of daylight and sunlight. This is commonly used by developers undertaking serious building work that will impact a number of different properties that require it — eg, educational facilities, hospitals and so on. In this case the planning authorities determine if a proposal is suitable for the area.
For private dwellings, I would advise investigating Rights To Light. In the least it could gain you compensation and prevent, halt or dismantle the work depending on an assessments’s findings. However, if you are in a purpose build development then you could band together with other tenants and landlord and investigate Daylight and Sunlight.
A surveyor can calculate the reduction in light due to the work and guide you on how to make a planning objection together with other issues arising under the Party Wall Act. For people’s homes, the industry tends to say that 55 per cent of the room at the working plane (roughly kitchen work surface height) should receive skylight. This point is known as the grumble line. However should the matter reach the courts, the judge will use their discretion as to what they consider feels right.
Either way, employing a surveyor at the earliest stage is the best way to protect your rights, your property and hopefully maintain good neighbourly relationships. Ideally your neighbour should fund this. Otherwise this may go to court to judge the basis of the injury and the fairness of the construction, but that will take time and cost and if a surveyor hasn’t done an inspection first, you may lose the case.
Dan Tapscott, head of Neighbourly Matters at property consultancy Rapleys, and founder of the Light Knights industry group