Beware the cost of keeping your neighbours in the dark!

A recent High Court case is a salient reminder of the  potential expense if you ignore your neighbours’ property rights.

The case of Beaumont Business Centres Limited v Florala Properties Limited involved a development in London, the effect of which reduced the level of natural light received through the windows of the next door building.

Florala had obtained planning permission to increase the height of its property, and convert the building into an apart-hotel,.  The neighbouring building was used as office space.

The tenant of the offices, Beaumont, applied for an injunction against Florala on the basis that their development would result in the loss of light to its building, which had little natural light to start with.  Florala’s defence was that the neighbouring offices affected were already short on natural light so a further reduction didn’t amount to an actionable loss!.  The Judge rejected that argument.  The Judge found on the evidence that the reduction in light to the affected windows was a reduction of light below ”that which was required for the ordinary purposes of inhabiting or business” and the reduction was substantial enough an interference to amount to a nuisance in law.

The Judge, having found nuisance by reason of the development, decided on the facts before him that the reduction in light led to a reduction in rental income to the office block.  The Judge took into consideration that although there had been some negotiation by Florala to try to settle the claim against it, it had acted in a “high handed” manner, putting its own development interests above the rights of Beaumont.

The Judge considered that if Beaumont were entitled to damages in lieu of an injunction, they  would be calculated based upon assessment of negotiation damages.  That means assessing what the parties might have reasonably negotiated themselves would be payable to buy off Beaumont’s rights of light to the affected windows.  The value of Florala’s building was assessed at £15.9 million, reduced to  £14.8million if it was built so as not to infringe the light next door(£1.1 million uplift).  The negotiated damages were assessed at 33% of the uplift in value – £350,000.

However, in the circumstances of this case, the Judge found that it was in fact appropriate to grant an injunction, ordering Florala to ‘cut back’ its development, so as to prevent the infringement of rights to light.

The decision upholds the principle that,  when considering infringements of rights of light , the Court will be willing to order an injunction and require demolition where a landowner ignores the rights of its neighbour.  A developer must be acutely aware that a Court will not order damages to be paid in lieu of an injunction simply because that would be ‘less messy or less expensive’ than requiring demolition.  A party’s conduct will be heavily scrutinized in such matters, as will the extent of infringement suffered by the neighbouring property in assessing the appropriate remedy.

Where a developer knows, or certainly ought to have known that a substantial interference will occur, the fact it ploughs on regardless with its development, especially in the face of opposition by the affected neighbour, will weigh heavily on the Court’s mind.

The default position for developers faced with the prospect of an actual or anticipated rights of light claim should be  to engage at an early stage with their neighbours, and face ‘head on’ the prospect that damages may be payable, or worse, that what may be built could be ordered to be taken down, at significantly greater expense.  An early negotiated settlement could well be in both parties’ interests.

Stokes Partners litigation specialists have considerable experience and expertise in property based litigation; if you think you may be affected by issues of this sort contact us for advice.

The information contained in this article provides a general overview of the current position in relation to the subject matter.  It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in relation to any specific legal problem.