Do property owners have a ‘right to light’?
A property owner does not have an automatic right to light. This can pose a problem where a neighbouring property, or trees and hedges are blocking light from your own land and property.
A property owner may have a legal right to light under their legal title to their property. The official copy of your title should be examined to see if you have such a right to light. This will usually be confined to buildings, but if such a right is interfered with – you may be able to enforce your rights through the courts.
You may also have alternative means of asserting your rights if light is being blocked. For instance, if a property owner’s title documents contain covenants restricting the planting of trees, and a tree is planted blocking the light from your land, you may be able to make a claim for damages – and/or other remedies.
High hedges and trees can cause a particular problem for adjoining property owners where they block light from the neighbouring land. Under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and the High Hedges Regulations 2005, there is a statutory means of redress through the local authority where a hedge or tree/s is more than 2 metres high.
When does this legislation apply?
The legislation applies to owners and occupiers (for example, tenants) where::
- there are 2 or more trees or shrubs over 2 metres high above ground level and which act as a barrier to light, and
- the reasonable enjoyment of part or all of a property, including a garden or part of a garden, is being adversely affected by a tree or high hedge that is situated on neighbouring land, and
- the land which is being adversely affected is a domestic property
How does the legislation deal with problems relating to high trees and hedges?
The owner or occupier of the land which is being adversely affected by the tree of hedge complained of should take reasonable steps to try and resolve the matter with their neighbour. If a resolution cannot be reached, the owner/occupier may make a complaint to the relevant local council, which has the power to order your neighbour to reduce the height of their tree/hedge. A fee is payable to the council if you wish to make a complaint.
Before reaching its decision, the local authority will weigh up all the issues and consider the case on its merit. In relation to hedges, the council must consider whether the hedge is growing on land owned by someone else; whether it’s the hedge, or a portion of it, that is causing problems; whether it’s mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen; and more than 2 metres tall. Clearly, whether the hedge blocks too much light to a neighbour’s garden (or house) will be a consideration, but, do note that the legislation does not guarantee access to uninterrupted light to your garden.
A decision may take 6 months to be made.
What might the local authority decide?
If the local authority decides the tree/hedge is having an adverse effect, for instance, blocking out your light, it may issue a remedial notice requiring the other landowner to remedy the problem. This may involve crown thinning, cutting the tree or hedge down to 2 metres or even removing it altogether.
Note that the council can override any tree preservation order (TPO) that is in place. A TPO prohibits the cutting down, uprooting, topping, lopping, wilful damage or wilful destruction of trees without the consent of the local authority.
A remedial notice will explain what action needs to be taken by the occupier of the neighbouring land and the time in which they have to carry it out. It may also set out what future action needs to be taken in order to prevent a recurrence of the problem.
The remedial notice will also explain the consequences of failing to comply with the notice. Failure to comply with a remedial notice is a criminal offence and can result in a fine and/ or order of the Court to take steps specified in a remedial notice by a certain date.
A remedial notice can be registered as a land charge against the property and binds subsequent property owners. If the local authority decides, on balance, not to issue a remedial notice you can appeal within 28 days of being notified of the decision. Likewise, the recipient of a remedial notice can also appeal within 28 days.