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What Is the Right to Light?

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  • Originally Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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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.

Filing Protests

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.

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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.

Settling Disputes

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.

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Discuss this Article

amysamp
Post 6

The Right to Light law seems important not only for businesses, but for residences also.

Your house is supposed to be your home, the place you should be able to go to relax and find peace of mind. Your home is supposed to be your sanctuary and safe-haven. A home is where you can go to unwind and enjoy the simpler things life has to offer, like natural light.

When people's right to even their most basic needs get taken away, like natural light, many feel as though their home has been ripped away from them as well. Few people, if any, truly find comfort in dark, dim areas.

Unnatural light does not replace natural light at

all. Of course unnatural light is better than no light, but real light is the best there ever is. God gave us the sun and the moon for many reasons, natural light being one important reason.

We should have this Right to Light law passed not only for businesses' livelihood, but also residents' livelihood as well.

tolleranza
Post 5

I am astounded that only England and Wales have legalized the Right to Light law.

We should have the Right to Light law here in the United States of America. We all could benefit more from natural light. Not only does sunlight put more people in a better mood, it also increases productivity and drive in more people as well.

I know that business-wise it would be difficult to enforce the Right to Light law in big cities here in America, but there should at least be some adjustments made.

It really is non-conducive for both the employee's and employer's to produce in abundance when they only have limited, if any, natural light to keep their

mind and body going strong.

We, as Americans, should get a petition going to support the Right to Light law. As difficult as it is for businesses to keep afloat, it is even more difficult for the employee’s to keep afloat amid all the demands of corporate America.

People may see this as silly, but once they see the positive results from the Right to Light law, I am sure some of them will change their mind.

ddljohn
Post 4

@fify-- Are you the owner of that office building?

Even if the Right to Light existed in the US, you probably wouldn't have been able to do anything unless you are the owner of that building and have been a resident of it for at least 20 years like the article said. A house has to fit these qualifications before claiming the Right to Light. You also have to be a resident for 20 years before modifying the windows.

What I'm wondering is if the Right to Light also applies to gardens in the UK?

If, for example, your neighbor's tree blocked the light to your windows, could you claim Right to Light?

discographer
Post 3

There is a Right to Light legislation in Michigan but it has nothing to do with this legislation in the UK.

The legislation in Michigan is about giving Michigan residents the option of continuing to use incandescent light bulbs as long as it is made and sold in the State. Recently, there was a Federal legislation that required incandescent bulbs to be replaced with more energy efficient ones nationwide and Michigan State Legislation made this legislation as a response to that.

fify
Post 2

I wish the right to light existed in the US as well!

I work in the city and my office building had a really nice view and lots of natural light through the windows until another building was built right next to us.

The space is limited and the walls of the building is so close to ours that all we see through our windows now is their wall. It also has largely decreased the amount of natural light we get.

It's very frustrating because I spend the whole day in the office and I tend to get depressed when there isn't enough light during the day. But unfortunately, there is nothing to be done. If we had the right to light, we could take this case to court.

seag47
Post 1

This sounds like a wonderful law to have in place! I live in the United States, where high rises constructed right next to each other sometimes block all natural light, and it sure would be nice if we had the right to light here.

In bigger cities, space is an issue. Developers have to put buildings wherever there is just enough room for them, regardless of whether the surrounding buildings are affected negatively.

I think that sunlight improves people's moods. Workers stuck in office buildings would be much happier if they had some daylight filtering through the windows, and I believe that productivity and job satisfaction would increase if the right to light applied in this country.

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