In Beaumont Business Centres Ltd v Florala Properties Ltd (2020) the High Court considered the legal position regarding a serviced office provider’s right to light following an adjoining apathotel development.
Beaumont Business Centres Limited took out an injunction against Florala Properties Limited the owner of an adjoining aparthotel for an infringement of rights of light.
What is rights to light?
It’s a question that arises frequently in regard to adjoining developments in a country where buildings are often built cheek by jowl. A “right to light” is a civil matter in law and is a separate issue to light from daylight and sunlight, as considered by the planning laws.
An occupier’s rights of light must therefore always be taken into consideration, even when planning permission has been granted. These rights can affect both residential and commercial properties, even non habitable spaces are capable of enjoying rights of light.
A right to light is usually defined as one that has been enjoyed through defined spaces in a building for an uninterrupted period of 20 years, as governed in England and Wales under the Prescription Act 1832.
Any infringement of the right may give an affected property owner the right to seek an injunction to have a development or proposed development reduced in size. Where the loss of light is minimal a court may decide that monetary compensation is appropriate. Surveyors use mathematical calculations to determine whether or not a development causes an infringement.
The 50/50 rule on light has emerged from surveying practice in what is known as the Waldram method. This is a system used by surveyors and provides that, if half the light in a room is adequate in accordance with the method, then there is no actionable interference and therefore no claim.
Florala Properties Ltd carried out works to its own property to increase the height of the building. Beaumont’s tenanted building, used as high end serviced offices, was already poorly lit and needed artificial lighting, so in its defence Florala argued that it had not caused an actionable nuisance.
The claimant (Beaumont) was the tenant of the office building located in the City of London and sought an injunction, or alternatively damages against the defendant, the freehold owner of the adjacent building. Beaumont’s claim was that the defendant’s extension of its building had interfered with its rights to light and this was affecting the rents it could charge its serviced office tenants.
The court rejected Beaumont’s argument that the poorly lit offices were not more substantially deprived of light than before the development and that it did not affect the rental value or cause the occupier to suffer loss of income.
After a good deal of technical analysis the judge found that the reduction in light did result in a reduction in rents Beaumont could receive for the affected rooms and that however difficult it was to quantify that reduction, he agreed with Beaumont that the reduction caused a substantial interference and amounted to a nuisance.
The judge granted an injunction ordering the defendant to cut back its development, but a complicating factor was that the defendant’s premises were already occupied by a tenant on a long lease, granted after the claimant had first complained about the infringement.
This case was the first decision made since a ruling of the Supreme Court in Coventry v Lawrence which declared that an injunction requiring demolition of an interfering part of a building was an appropriate remedy in a rights of light case.
So, Beaumont was entitled to this remedy, but also the judge ordered that Beaumont would be entitled to damages in lieu of an injunction in the sum of £350,000.