A County Court has ruled that development work which restricts natural sunlight to property could, in principle, be a breach of a ‘quiet enjoyment’ covenant in a lease, even where no formal right to light exists.
However, in a recent case, it was decided that there had been no breach because the reduction in direct sunlight complained of by the occupants would not result in their flat becoming "substantially or materially less fit for the purpose for which the grant or demise was made", according to the judge, Mr Recorder Morgan.
Francia Properties Ltd, owners of a block of flats in Battersea, London, had attempted to obtain a declaration from the court that it was entitled to extend the building by constructing a new flat on its roof space. It was opposed by Optic Management Company, the building’s right-to-manage (RTM) company, as well as the tenants of the current top floor flat.
The breach of covenant claim was one of three complaints to the plans raised by Optic and the tenants. The judge rejected all three objections. However, the RTM company has been given permission to appeal the decision in the Court of Appeal, as there is no previous case law on the rights of RTM companies in this type of situation.
Nicola Tubbs, a property law specialist with Palmers, said: “The sunlight and daylight tests are something which developers will be familiar with and such issues are increasingly becoming a stumbling block in urban developments.
But the question of whether, where no such right of light exists, there may be other light-related matters which need to be considered, is less well known.
“Although in this case there was no right to light, the lease contained a covenant which required the landlord to allow the tenant "quiet enjoyment” of the flat.
“The court decided that the loss of light to the tenants from the construction of an additional floor was not "beyond that contemplated by the parties at the time of grant" and did not reduce the rights of the tenant "to below the irreducible minimum".
“In practice, this means that although this particular case did not succeed, it leaves the door open to both an appeal and to other cases in the future, particularly where a proposed development scheme is so significant that it can be said that the landlord has not taken all reasonable steps.”