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23rd April 2020

Protecting rights of light where a building is badly lit

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The courts have recently ruled that a right of light may be protected even when the building is badly lit before interference. In the judgment the claimant was awarded an injunction against the defendant where an extension to the lightwell on the defendant’s building substantially diminished the right of light to the claimant’s building. The claimant leased a building in the City of London, from which it ran a business providing serviced offices.

The defendant’s extension to its lightwell caused a loss of light to a part of the claimant’s building. Not long after works on the defendant’s building commenced, the claimant applied for an injunction to prevent the increase in height of the defendant’s building from infringing its right of light and seeking an order that the infringing development be demolished.

The defendant argued that the claimant was merely attempting to extract payment and that the claimant’s building was not well lit prior to the extension that it built, so its actions merely worsened the lighting in rooms that were already poorly lit. The defendant additionally asserted that because the rooms had been poorly lit before its works, the claimant’s loss of rental value was not substantial.

The court, however, did not agree. It decided instead that the claimant had to prove that the light reduction made them ‘substantially less comfortable than before’ and that the burden fell to the defendant, to show why an injunction should not be granted. In fact, the court decided that an injunction, and removal of the additional building works which resulted in a loss of light to the claimant’s building, was the appropriate remedy.

Of course, each case turns on its own merits, and whether an injunction will be a suitable remedy depends entirely upon the circumstances. An injunction will never be granted when damages are a sufficient remedy. However, this is an important case as it demonstrates that the property does not have to be well lit in order for an injunction to be obtained. A substantial reduction in the light which the property benefits from may be enough.

It additionally highlights the importance, from the perspective of a developer, of ensuring that parties consider early in the process whether works carried out will have a detrimental effect on the right of light at neighbouring properties and whether such reduction in light may be substantial. It is preferable if this is the case to ensure that the parties reach a compromise, to prevent an injunction being obtained that requires the demolition of works.

For advice on commercial property issues please contact Ceri Riddell on 01223 532753 or click here to email her.